Szechuan Soup

Wow…I made a draft of this post on May 12, and the only reason I didn’t publish it that night was I was too lazy to process the photo of the soup. Everything else was written. OK, in fairness to me, I have NOT been lazy; I’ve been very much the opposite of lazy. But I never found the time to deal with that one photo, which is ridiculous since I’ve processed hundreds of photos since then. If anything I’m even busier now than I was then, but I made the time to publish this now while tonight’s soup simmers. 🙂

So here’s my old post:
I feel like on those random times I actually manage to post a recipe here lately that it’s always soup. There are a few reasons for that:

  • I love soup.
  • I’ve had to eat alone most nights this year and making a huge pot of soup is an excellent way for me to have a lovely dinner and then a week of lunches.
  • I love soup.
  • I eat dinner ridiculously late year-round but as I have this weird thing about not eating dinner when it’s light out, my dinner hour just gets absurd in the spring and summer, so I like eating something lighter like soup.
  • I love soup.
  • Also since it’s spring, I usually go for a hike after work and usually eat something to tide me over for a while before doing so, so when I get home for dinner, I don’t want a large meal.
  • I love soup and shouldn’t have to explain myself.

As I’ve mentioned, we are moving to California in a couple of months, and it’s finally starting to feel real. I’ve started cleaning out the house of things that won’t move with us so I can donate them. I also need to start cleaning out the cupboards so I don’t have to either throw away food or move it across the country. Tonight’s soup used up all kinds of things from the fridge and the cupboard! Cans of baby corn and young jackfruit I don’t remember buying, the remainder of a cabbage that needed to be used up, a random hot pepper I found, a zucchini that was on its last legs, the rest of an open jar of tomato sauce. And bonus: it tastes awesome! And very spicy, just the way I like it!

Szechuan Soup

1 onion, cut into half-moons, then cut into quarter-moons
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1-2″ of garlic, peeled and grated
8 cups vegan “chicken” broth
12 oz tomato sauce
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1/2 cup soy curls
1 small can young jackfruit in brine, drained and shredded
1/4 cabbage (green, Napa, or Savoy are all fine), cored and chopped
1 cup baby corn, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 medium orange hot pepper, sliced
Szechuan pepper, to taste

Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven, then add the onions and sauté for a few minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute, then add the broth, tomato sauce, soy sauce, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then add the soy curls, jackfruit, baby corn, zucchini, and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour or until everything is cooked. Add the Szechuan pepper to taste.

I am nearly finished the Virginia Master Naturalist training. We had our last field trip this Saturday at Huntley Meadows; we learned about birds on the first leg and herps on the second. We saw a lot of cool stuff, including this green heron:

And LOTS of frogs; this is a green frog:

Also lots of turtles. This is a totally adorable baby snapping turtle, probably born in September of last year. He’s smaller than a silver dollar and SUPER CUTE.

Here’s a different baby snapping turtle with some chapstick as a size reference:

And here’s a sign of spring: red-winged blackbirds mating:

Back to the present: I just got back from California; if you want to see some pictures from there, tune into; I’ll be adding a couple every day this week.

Comments (3)

Black Bean Stir Fry

Yeah, that’s right, I HAVE A RECIPE. It’s not the most exciting or innovative recipe in the world, but I figured it would help me ease back into actual food blogging at some point. 🙂

The secret ingredient in this dish is Chinese fermented black beans. You are supposed to rinse these before use but the brand I bought wasn’t too salty and I didn’t bother. I really simplified the preparation for this dish. As I had some cooked brown rice in the freezer, this meal took about 15 minutes to prepare, most of which was devoted to vegetable chopping.

Black Bean Stir Fry

12 oz seasoned baked tofu, chopped
1/2 small head savoy or Napa cabbage, cored and chopped into 1″ pieces
1 small head broccoli, chopped into florets
2 leaks, white parts only, cleaned and sliced
2 small carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 hot pepper, chopped
1 small can sliced water chestnuts
2 scallions, sliced
about 2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine or sherry

For the sauce:
3/4 cup vegetable broth or vegan “chicken” broth
3-4 Tbsp Chinese fermented black beans
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp black vinegar
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1-2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp corn starch whisked into 3 Tbsp water

Prep the tofu and all the vegetables and set aside. Stir in all of the rest of the sauce ingredients (except the cornstarch mixture). Heat a wok over high heat and add a little oil. Add the leaks and stir fry for a couple of minutes, then add each of the remaining vegetables, except the scallions, and the tofu a minute or two apart in order of their required cooking time, stir frying the entire time (for the ingredients above, I went in the following order: leeks, carrots, celery, pepper, broccoli, tofu, cabbage, water chestnuts). Use the wine or sherry to deglaze the wok, then pour in the sauce and toss. Lower the heat a bit and let the sauce cook for a minute or so, then pour the cornstarch mixture into the wok, stir, and cook for another minute or so until the sauce thickens.

Top with the sliced scallions. Serve with chili garlic sauce or Sriracha on the side.

Aaaaand back to non-food matters. I’ve been suffering from photography withdrawal since returning from Africa. Yes, this is somewhat due to the fact that I’m sad there are no non-zoo lions in Virginia, but it’s compounded by the fact that it’s winter. We had such a FABULOUS summer that I got VERY used to going to a park every single night after work, but not only is it cold this time of year, worse, it’s dark when I leave work, so parks are out. It’s very depressing. I decided that to motivate myself I would attempt a “365” photo project, which means that every day for the next 365 days I need to take and publish a photograph. What’s more, I decided my theme would be self-portraits. Upon reflection I realized that people may think I want to take “selfies”, but that’s the last thing I want to do. I kind of see “selfies” as something you take with your phone at arm’s length. I can’t think of any reason I would take a picture of myself with my phone. The reason I chose to concentrate of self-portraits is, however, possibly more sad than a desire to take a good “selfie”. The reason is I used to take a lot of pictures of friends and I like taking pictures of people. Maybe not as much as I like taking pictures of animals, but I like it. The fact is, though, that I don’t go out that much any more, and I don’t particularly want to, which means if I want to practice taking pictures of people, that leaves me or Mark, and there’s no way Mark will agree to be my model, so I’m left with myself. Which is actually kind of appropriate because although I DID go out a lot in high school when I was teaching myself photography, there were still a lot of times when I was home alone with no subjects to photograph so I’d take pictures of myself. Like this one, which I like because THERE’S AN AWESOME PICTURE OF TIGER BEHIND ME in our living room:

Or more ridiculously, this one wearing my dad’s suit – and apparently carrying the mail – for some unknown reason:

Okay, I also like to play dress-up.

I don’t know, we might be heading into selfie territory with this one:

Anyway, I’m REALLY unphotogenic, increasingly so the further I get from high school, so I’m hoping that over the course of the year I’ll come away with at least a couple of photos of myself that I don’t hate, either because I improve at taking them or I come to terms with my appearance. One of those things. Although I have absolutely no confidence I will actually keep this up for 365 days. I’m surprised I’ve done it for three, quite frankly. The only reason I’m mentioning it here is to make myself a little bit more accountable by actually confessing that I’m doing it. It will actually be much easier to keep up with in the spring and summer when I’m out hiking every night as I usually take my tripod with me and I can just hop in front of it for a shot or two. I have absolutely no idea how I will possibly manage to take a different photo of myself every single night of the long, cold, horrible winter. That will require a lot more creativity than I have. But here’s to trying!

I assure you I will VERY RARELY, if ever again, post any of these self-portraits here. This is supposed to be a food blog and most pictures of me will make you lose your appetite! But here was photo 1 of 365, taken while I was figuring out how to tether my DSLR to my laptop in Lightroom. Gomez thought he’d assist with that endeavor.

And today’s:

I’m kissing her little paw!

An outtake from today that shows Torticia, who NEVER looks bad in a picture, better:

I said I don’t take “selfies” (because I’m snobby and I take “self-portraits”), but that’s not entirely true. I can’t be trusted not to take pictures of myself with my underwater camera just because I CAN take pictures of myself underwater and I think that’s awesome. In the pool at the lodge in Zanzibar:

See what I said about being unphotogenic?!

Okay, NEXT, a request. So I’m going to apply for the Virginia Master Naturalist program this spring and although there aren’t really any previous education requirements, I feel like it would be a good idea to do some reading before classes begin in February. Anyone have any favorite books on natural history, biology, or the like? When I read science books, I usually read physics or neuroscience books, so it’s sort of a new field for me.

Next stop: SERENGETI!

Comments (2)

Asian Mustard Greens with Tofu

Every year in October (although once I think it was November), vegans around the world unite and participate in a blogging event called Vegan Mofo, in which they strive to blog nearly every day of the month, and every year I think yeah, I should do that, but then every year I think HAHAHAHA HOW COULD I EVER DO THAT? I’m busy all the time, but it seems like October is THE busiest time of the year for me, even with the wildlife stuff winding down a bit. I also tend to travel a lot in October. Of course, I’m just a big whiner because lots of bloggers are just as busy as I am and a lot of them travel more than I do and yet they still manage to post every day for Mofo. I just feel as if I would get stressed out about it so I’ve never made the commitment, much as I admire everyone else who does it and enjoy reading all the blogs.

Anyway, that’s a long way of saying I’m not doing Mofo because I’m a big whiner. Ironically I’m suddenly brimming with blog post ideas over here and I have a bunch of meals planned this week and next that are new and possibly blog-worthy, so maybe I could have pulled it off after all. I honestly think I could have done a Month of Vinegar theme, I have so many post ideas involving vinegar alone. Wouldn’t that have been awesome? I’m kind of regretting not signing up and at least doing a food diary. Y’all care what we eat daily chez Renae, right? Fortunately, as wildlife duties have been slowing down, our daily meals have been getting more interesting. I don’t know how interesting tonight’s really is, but it features mixed Asian mustard greens that I got at the farmers market and I get really excited about things like bundles of mixed Asian mustard greens so here I am, sharing my glee with you. I’m pretty sure I’m going to cry myself to sleep when the farmers market ends at the end of this month.

Asian Mustard Greens with Tofu

1 bundle mixed Asian mustard greens, stems removed if necessary, and chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 lb extra firm tofu, chopped
3 cups soybean sprouts
1-4 chili peppers, sliced (depending on the type and how much heat you like)
2 green onions, sliced, white and green parts separated
1 small hunk of ginger, grated
4-5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup vegan broth
1/4 cup fermented black bean paste
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
2 drops stevia (or 1 tsp sugar)
2 Tbsp cornstarch whisked into 3 Tbsp cold water

First stir together the broth, black bean paste, soy sauce, wine, and stevia in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. Set aside. Also set aside the cornstarch and water mixture.

Put some oil in a wok and add the white parts of the green onion, ginger, garlic, and chili peppers. I do this cold – although in general you heat the pan and then the oil before adding anything else – to prevent the garlic and ginger from scorching. Turn the heat to medium high and start stirring when it begins sizzling.

Add the onions and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.

Add the tofu and cook, stirring for another couple of minutes.

Add the greens. Look how pretty they are! Stir and let them cook down a bit.

When the greens have wilted, add the sprouts and stir until they wilt as well.

Pour in the broth mixture and bring it to a boil.

Then stir in the cornstarch mixture, allowing it to thicken the broth and coat the tofu and vegetables. It will become shiny.

Serve with rice and garnish with the green parts of the green onions. Mine wasn’t very spicy so I heaped some chili garlic paste on the side as well.

As you’ve probably noticed, I tend to add a personal photograph or twelve to the ends of my posts. However, I don’t have much to share with you this week. I didn’t even take any pictures of raccoons this week (too busy trying to convince them I could clean their cages much faster without two of them on my head). So I could search for some earlier photo you haven’t seen – I only have a gazillion of them – but no, I’m too lazy to do that. Last night I was testing the remote control for my camera to see from what angles and distances I could get it to work and thus the following photos got imported from the camera along with tonight’s pictures of greens and tofu, so THAT’s what you get to look at. Pictures I took to test stuff and intended to trash. Wow, I’m really hurting for content.

I don’t think when I tripped the shutter on this one that I realized I was taking a picture of Mezzaluna, but you may recall several posts back when I mentioned that we play a game with him in which we place pipe cleaners in hard-to-reach areas that he has to hunt down and retrieve. If you can see it (it’s on the shade right above his head), this one looks easy but it’s tied on securely and is the more challenging than it looks. He kind of needs opposable thumbs for that one, but I’ve seen him get even harder ones by being clever, so he’ll get it.

DERRR does the remote work when I’m directly in front of and 6″ away from the camera? AM I A HUGE DORK?

Hm, okay, next time I’ll find some real pictures, or just give you a break from my mediocre-to-bad photography.

Comments (4)

Making dumplings from sauerkraut-making leftovers

Guess what? I’m going to talk about FOOD! No cats, no raccoons, no sewing, no infrared pictures, just food, like in a real food blog! (Actually, I think cats are considered a normal part of food blogs.) How many of you figured it would take me a week or two to get around to the food I’ve been promising in my last two posts? In all fairness, I wasn’t planning to make a post tonight, but I got part-way through making dinner and thought, “this would be a good post; I’ll have to remember to do one next time I do this.” But then I thought, well, why not do it THIS time? It’s really more a suggestion than a recipe though.

See, I was all hyped up from the Sandor Katz class and making a couple kinds of sauerkraut. (It’s a good thing Sandor convinced me I don’t need to weigh my salt because my scale is on the fritz, which is terrible because even if I don’t need it for sauerkraut, I NEED it for bread. ACK!) I don’t know about you, but when I make sauerkraut, or really any time I use my mandoline, I end up with a bunch of little nubbies – the ends of vegetables I can’t slice on the mandoline without slicing my fingers along with them. Because I was making cabbage-based sauerkraut/pickles, I thought it would be smart to use those leftover pieces in wontons or dumplings, which I’d been planning to make this week anyway, because Mark moved a package of wonton wrappers from the freezer to the refrigerator.

My Sandor-inspired sauerkrauts:

I don’t have pictures of the first couple of steps because, like I said, I didn’t think to turn it into a post until a little into the process. But what I did was take a scant cup (because that’s what I had) of TVP and reconstituted it with an even more scant cup of boiling “beef” broth (I used Better Than Bouillon) by placing them together in a bowl and covering with a plate for a few minutes.

Next, I took the scraps I had from making sauerkraut: both green and red cabbage, some carrots, and daikon – about 2 cups worth – and put them into a food processor/chopper along with a few cloves of garlic and some roughly chopped ginger and processed until of a minced consistency. I ended up with somewhere between a cup and a cup and a half of minced vegetables. I also chopped a couple of scallions and assembled some shaoxing wine (sherry is a good sub), soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil:

I heated some oil in a cast iron skillet, then added the contents of the food chopper (i.e. the veggies) and cooked them down just a little, then added the TVP and cooked it all for another 3 or 5 minutes. I tossed the scallions into the mixture, then I sprinkled it with some of each of the soy sauce, shaoxing wine, and (less of the) sesame oil. Just a bit, you don’t want it to be soggy or even all that wet; you just want to add some flavor.

This is the exact moment I decided to start documenting – I didn’t even do my neurotic cleaning-as-I-go before I snapped the picture: look at that mess! I’m moving it from the skillet to a bowl so it cools down faster.

A close-up:

Next I found my trusty wonton press:

To fill the wontons or dumplings, a rounded tablespoon measure is perfect …

… or a small cookie dough scoop is perhaps even more perfect:

Put a round wonton wrapper (watch the labels; these aren’t always vegan) onto the press:

Plop the veggie/TVP mixture into the middle, …

… brush a little water on the edges of the wrapper, and squeeze the handles together. Look, it’s the Easter bunny!

Voila, a perfect wonton! Or dumpling. Or whatever you want to call it. Tasty stuff in a wrapper.

Keep on truckin’ until you’ve gone through all your filling. Don’t worry about making too many; these things freeze beautifully. I made about 3 dozen.

You have your choice of cooking methods from here. You can steam them, or boil them for a couple of minutes, or add to soup, or bake them, or steam/pan-fry them as I did. I followed Bryanna’s pan-fried dumpling method in Authentic Chinese Cuisine. I’ll show you pictures without writing out her entire instructions because Bryanna is extremely generous with her recipes and you should buy her books, and this one in particular is great. Basically you just fry on one side for a bit …

… then add some water and steam for a few minutes.

Make a dipping sauce of your choosing; I always just mix up some soy sauce, black or rice vinegar (they’re quite different so aren’t interchangeable, but both are nice in their own right), a few drops of toasted sesame oil, chili-garlic sauce, and some chopped scallions. I also served the chili green beans from Authentic Chinese Cuisine:

(Gomez is in this picture. Sigh.)

Don’t cook any leftover wontons you have. Instead, arrange them in a single layer without touching on a tray and put in the freezer until solid (this only takes 15-20 minutes, which is good because unless you have a gigantic freezer, you’ll have to do it in pretty small batches), then plop them all into a freezer bag. When you want to make them, just start to so as if they were freshly-made – no need to thaw. I’m excited to have stored some of these because with baby wildlife season coming up, I’m going to be having some late nights when I come home starving and these are going to get devoured.

Next, to show you how serious I am about staying on topic, tonight’s bonus picture is NOT of cats, NOT about travel, NOT of raccoons, NOT related to crafts, NOT taken with an infrared filter, and is FOOD! I don’t know why, but when I chopped this cabbage in half this evening, I was struck by its beauty. I can’t decide if the core reminds me of a woman dancing, Ganesh, or the tree of life, but I was moved by it nonetheless. Moved enough to spend 45 minutes with a tripod trying to get what I saw to show up in a photograph. Not sure I succeeded, but this is me demonstrating to you that in addition to all the other things I celebrate in life, I celebrate food.

Comments (7)

Bean Curd with Fermented Black Beans

I don’t know how it happened, but it’s October. I keep thinking it’s, like, July. Many vegan bloggers will be celebrating October through Vegan MoFo, whereas I will probably be doing a Vegan NoMoFo this October. It’s just going to be busy. Fortunately most of my busyness is related to October being the best month of the year: my birthday, Smark’s birthday, our anniversary, Halloween, and this year, a trip to San Francisco for me! I’ll be lucky if I can make a post once a week, let alone once a day, this month. I did manage to whip up a post tonight, though!

I don’t know if it’s because the days are getting shorter – I hate driving home from work in the dark – but I’ve been feeling more and more pressured to get home and get dinner on the table earlier, while not bothering to drag myself out of bed any earlier in order to make that possible. (It’s too cold in the mornings to get up!) Dinner, therefore, ends up being less creative and less good (and less blog-worthy). Tonight I knew I was going to use some of my homemade tofu in a stir fry and planned to stop by Super H and pick up some exotic Chinese veggies – gai lan or something of that sort – to accompany it, but once en route (hence en traffic), I realized I didn’t feel like going a couple of miles out of my way to go to Super H and decided to use up the boring old veggies I had in the fridge. And the following was born:

Bean Curd with Fermented Black Beans

Fermented (or preserved) black beans are one of my favorite ingredients and are available at most Asian grocery stores. They are actually soy beans (not black beans), and are rather salty. There really isn’t a substitute for them that I can think of, although if you can’t find them in bean form, you can probably find black bean paste or sauce, which are fermented black beans that have been mushed up into paste or sauce form.

2 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 bell pepper (any colour), chopped
10 oz extra firm tofu (preferably homemade), chopped
thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated or minced
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 Tbsp fermented black beans
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry, or even sake)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp black vinegar
1 Tbsp chili garlic paste
1/2 cup vegan broth, any flavor
2 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp cold water

Place the fermented black beans, wine, soy sauce, and vinegar in a small bowl and stir. Set aside.

Prep all the veggies and tofu.

Heat a wok over medium high heat and add some peanut oil. When it’s hot, add the carrots and stir fry for a minute.

Add the garlic and ginger, fry for a few seconds.

Add the celery and stir fry for a minute or two.

Add the bell pepper and stir fry another minute or two.

Add the tofu and chili paste; stir fry for yet another minute or two (the advantage of making your own tofu is you can make it as firm as you like so it won’t crumble when stir-fried).

Pour in the fermented black bean mixture and stir.

Pour in the broth and bring to a boil.

Whisk together the cornstarch and cold water, pour into the wok and stir as it thickens the broth and coats the veggies and tofu.

Serve with brown rice.

This wasn’t the most exciting meal in the world, but it was fast, used up stuff from the fridge, and is healthy. Mine came out just on the cusp of saltiness I can tolerate, but that’s because I used about 3 tablespoons of the fermented black beans (I reduced it to 2 tablespoons in the recipe). You can rinse the beans before using to reduce the saltiness. I usually don’t bother, but I think the next time I use so much of them, I’ll either rinse them or reduce/eliminate the soy sauce.

I visited the parental homestead on Saturday and my mom gave me a framed photo of my great-grandmother, the one to whom I’m nearly certain my beloved cast iron skillet used to belong, and which I hung on the kitchen wall so she can be near her skillet:

I really like the homey atmosphere it adds to the kitchen and I’m still really tickled to have her skillet. Unfortunately, Mark keeps demanding that I serve him coffee like an “obedient wife”, as she’s doing to my great-grandfather. (My response to Mark is not fit for a public blog.)

Comments (10)

A little about Szechuan eggplant, a lot about nothing

I’m popping in to say hi because although I don’t have much to share with you, I may not have a chance to post for a few days. So I took photos of the Szechuan Eggplant that Jes posted yesterday and I made for dinner tonight:

I liked it, but Mark emphatically did not. Actually, when I told him I was making eggplant for dinner, he promptly started preparing himself some soy nuggets, exclaiming he hated eggplant and wasn’t going to touch it. He did get very brave and snatched a piece off my plate to try…and immediately spit it out into the sink. So it MAY not be the dish for eggplant haters. Since I was cooking for just myself, I was glad how quick it was. I halved everything but the garlic and the Szechuan peppers, and since I didn’t have scallions, put about 1/4 white onion, chopped, in the wok about a minute before the eggplant.

In the same post, Jes mentioned that she was finding Roanoke a little too suburban for her tastes and that she often needs to get away to nature. Which reminded me of a “hike” I’d taken just the day before here in Northern Virginia. (I put hike in quotation marks because I realized I wasn’t having to put much effort into it when I came across a couple pushing their baby along the trail in a stoller.) Here’s Northern Virginia’s idea of nature, my friends:

That’s SO typical. Tree decimation is rampant in these parts.

In the middle of the woods, I came across this:

I feel like I should know what it is?

It’s also sort of discouraging when I’m tempted to listen to my iPod on the “hike” with the sole intent of drowning out the sounds of that delightful NoVA traffic I love so much.

On the upside, here are a few shots of nature not looking quite so infringed upon:

In cat news, Brachtune ran away Saturday night. Now, don’t be alarmed. She’s back home, safe and sound. But it was pretty rocky for about 20 minutes there after I finished making my last post here and realized afterwards that it was strange Brachtune hadn’t been on my lap while I was typing it, her chin on my hand as I type, drooling all over me and the keyboard. I searched the house and became a bit frantic when we realized she must be outside. (I later determined she must have snuck out about an hour earlier when I’d stepped outside for a moment.) It was dark, so Mark took the flashlight and started off looking for her (he later told me he thought about way Tigger would have run and went in the opposite direction), while I stayed near the house looking in the side yard, where she likes to sit and eat grass when she’s on her leash and we’re on the patio supervising her.

Not having any luck, I went back inside and searched even more thoroughly, getting a bit upset because if she was in the house and hadn’t heard me calling her, something was very wrong. Just as I was about to burst into tears with worry, I heard the back door open and a familiar meow: Mark had found her across the street, looking scared. Now, I don’t know what in the world could possibly have possessed a 17-year old cat, who probably has cancer, who’s wasting away (she’d down to 5 pounds), who’s currently battling a urinary tract infection, who is the sweetest little bundle of love and affection, and who prior to this year was too scared to try to go outside and if she ever worked up the nerve, would go about a foot and run back in terrified, to suddenly decide – in the middle of the night – that she wants to run away from home. She’s been wanting to go out a lot lately, but the vet said she’s not allowed, even on her leash, until she’s recovered from this latest infection and can get her shots. So we have to keep an eye on her when we’re going in and out, but I never thought she’d do this, and certainly never thought she’d take off across the street! Fortunately we don’t get much traffic in our neighborhood and none of our wild friends like the neighborhood raccoon were around. And fortunately Mark was able to find her when he did. But I think she must be crazy! And the next day? She was on her hind legs, pawing at the back door, reaching for the handle, howling piteously, demanding to go back out. Despite the fact she must have been terrified. Who is this cat???

Comments (8)

Japanese-Chinese Tofu and Tomato Stir Fry

I had a fresh block of tofu that I made yesterday and knew I probably wouldn’t be able to use it any other night this week, so I whipped out The Book of Tofu, figuring if the answer to “what’s for dinner?” wasn’t there, it wasn’t anywhere. The Book of Tofu is rather Japanese-centric, so the Chinese recipes it contains are mostly Japanese twists on Chinese recipes, which is why you’ll find sake in an otherwise rather Chinese meal below. I changed the recipe up, though, making it more authentically Chinese, so I probably should have swapped the sake out for shaoxing wine, but what the heck. It turned out well, it was quick and easy, combined flavors I love, and I’ll definitely make it again. But like my Japanese-type American-style Pickles, I seem to be making sort-of cross-culture foods lately. Which is a-okay with me.

Tofu and Tomato Stir Fry
Adapted from Fanchie-dofu in The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

12 oz fresh tofu, preferably homemade
1 1/2 medium tomatoes, chopped into wedges
1/2 medium onion, sliced thinly
2 large cloves garlic
2 Tbsp fermented black beans
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sake, shaoxing wine, or sherry
2 Tbsp tomato sauce
2-3 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
1 cup frozen peas or edamame
1 Tbsp cornstarch

In a small bowl, combine the fermented black beans (you can rinse these first to make them less salty, but I prefer not to), soy sauce, and wine.

Chop the tofu into 3/4″ squares.

Mince or press the garlic, slice the onions, and chop the tomatoes into wedges (make them thicker than I show here because mine cooked down too quickly).

When ready to cook the meal, heat some oil (I used peanut) in a hot wok. When hot, add the onions and stir fry for a minute.

Add the garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds.

Add the tomato wedges and stir fry for a minute or two.

Add the fermented black beans, soy sauce, and wine. If you can’t find or don’t have fermented black beans, you can just omit them and maybe add a little bit of vegan “beef” boullion, which is a totally different flavor but will give the dish a similar flavor boost. Try to find fermented black beans, though, because they are really, really good.

Stir in the tomato sauce and chili garlic sauce, adjusting for the amount of heat you like. I used about 2 tablespoons and Mark added hot sauce to his plate and I regretted not adding a little more. We both really like heat, though.

Gently stir in the tofu …

… and the peas or edamame. I think edamame would have been awesome here, and I sometimes have frozen edamame on hand but was sad to discover I didn’t have any tonight.

Allow to simmer for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into 2 tablespoons cold water:

Stir the cornstarch mixture into the wok and stir for a minute or two until mixture thickens and becomes a bit glossy.

Serve with brown rice.

Every ingredient in this dish is a favorite of mine, so this was a no-brainer!

In other news, I GOT IN THE POOL yesterday. The water was a bit cold upon first contact but I was determined to go swimming, and it wasn’t at all bad after the initial shock. Despite this happy news, the forecast for this week is yet more cooler temperatures and even more thunderstorms. I can’t believe it! It’s supposed to be in the SIXTIES on Wednesday. What kind of horrible summer is this? Also, I have a busy week ahead of me and then Saturday morning Mark and I leave for our annual Beach Week with his family in Charleston, South Carolina, which I am looking forward to (the beach there is really nice and I also love Mark’s family). There’s no internet at the beach, so you may not hear from me for a couple of weeks, but don’t be alarmed. I’m just relaxing and probably taking a million pictures I’ll later subject you to, some of which may involve food. Mark’s family contains several vegetarians and is extremely accomodating of vegans.

I took Brachtune in for a check-up in anticipation of leaving her alone for a week, to make myself feel better, and the vet called Friday to tell me that according to all the tests they ran she’s doing “amazing”. Which didn’t surprise me at all because Brachtune has been acting nothing at all like a 17-year old cat who probably has cancer: she’s been acting like a little ole hunk of purring love.

Also, tomorrow (Tuesday) is BLOOMSDAY! So read some of Ulysses (I’ve downloaded it to my phone for free!!), drink a lot of beer or whiskey, and act real pretentious!

Here’s Pig checking out his copy of Ulysses during Bloomsday 2004: the centennial!

Comments (4)

Chinese-Style Orange “Beef”

I usually go to Trader Joe’s about once a month and stock up on stuff. Last night was a Trader Joe’s night. I found a new product: “Beef-Less’ and “Chicken-Less” strips (I assumed I’d be able to find a link for you but alas, no) in the produce department and decided to pick up a package of each for making quick dinners after late nights at work. And somehow the very next night became just such a night. I got home around 8 and wanted to make something fairly fast, so I broke out the “Beef-Less” strips and threw together an “orange beef” stir-fry. Ordinarily I’d have preferred to use a fresh orange so I could use the zest in the dish as well but I didn’t have any and it was already late, as well as rainy and dreary, so I just used orange juice from the fridge instead of running to Wegmans.

Chinese-Style Orange Beef

1 package vegan “beef” strips, such as Trader Joe’s Beef-Less Strips
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 hot pepper, sliced
1 head broccoli, chopped into florets
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp shaoxing wine (or sherry)
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp chili paste
1 Tbsp bean paste
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cold water

Chop the broccoli and steam until crisp-tender, leaning towards crisp (it will cook another minute or two in the stir-fry, so under-cook slightly).

Chop the bell pepper, slice the hot pepper, mince or press the garlic, and if desired, snip the “beef” strips into bite-sized pieces using kitchen shears.

Whisk together the orange juice, agave nectar, shaoxing wine, soy sauce, chili paste, and bean paste.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water.

Heat a wok over medium-high heat, add 1-2 Tbsp peanut oil, then add the garlic and hot pepper. Stir fry for 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the bell pepper; stir fry for a minute.

Add the “beef” strips and fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the broccoli and fry for 30 seconds or so.

Pour in the sauce and stir, then add the cornstarch mixture and stir until the sauce thickens and becomes slightly shiny.

Serve with rice.

This was a pretty good, fast meal. The “Beef-Less” strips were okay. I’d probably buy them again as they were very convenient and tasted fine. I asked Mark what he thought of them and he said, “pretty good”. I asked him if he could be any more specific because I wanted to review them on the blog and he said, “they are better than I could do!” But then he added, “they aren’t as good as that secret seitan recipe you made a couple of times. That was sooooo good. You should make that again.” He was talking about Kittee’s Gluten Log; it was a test recipe when I first made it. So I guess that’s that. But Kittee’s recipe, though amazing, really needs to be made the day before for best results and the Beef-Less strips can be ready in 3 minutes, and on some days, convenience wins.

Comments (2)

Ma Po Tofu

One of my favorite Chinese ingredients is fermented black beans, and I’ve been wanting to post a recipe showcasing them for a while now. Ma po tofu isn’t quite the recipe I had planned for that post because although you can taste the black beans, it’s harder to distinguish them from the other flavors. But I got it in my head I wanted to make ma po tofu – I think because Mark Bittman featured it earlier this week – so that’s what I made tonight. I’ll be getting back to you on a more fermented black bean-intensive dish soon, but in the meantime, here is a tasty and quick dish you can make. Fermented black beans are available in Chinese grocery stores. If you absolutely can’t find them, you can omit them, but they are well worth seeking out for their unique and delicious flavor.

Bulgur stands in for the traditional pork or slightly-less-traditional ground beef here. You can use a commercial vegan “ground beef” if you’d like, but bulgur is very quick and easy to whip up, much cheaper, and healthier.

As for the tofu, you can use any water-packed variety you want, from soft to firm, but you don’t want to use silken tofu (the kind that comes in aseptic packs), which I don’t think is really used much in Chinese cuisine. Many ma po tofu recipes call for soft tofu, but you don’t want to use tofu so soft it falls apart when you gently stir it. I made my own tofu, as I always do, but I used calcium sulfate as the coagulant instead of my usual nigari, because calcium sulfate makes a softer tofu (my usual tofu is very firm). It only took about 45 minutes to make the tofu from start to finish and the taste is so very worth it that I encourage you to consider trying it out, but of course you can use store-bought if it’s out of the question.

Ma Po Tofu

Excuse my fake tofu. I was in the midst of making the tofu when I took the ingredients photo.

3/4 cup bulgur
2 cups vegan “beef” stock, divided
1 Tbsp tomato paste
12 oz tofu, cut into cubes about 3/4″
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2″ piece ginger, minced or grated
1 Tbsp fermented black beans
1/4 cup shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
2 Tbsp bean paste (you can use 3 Tbsp chili bean paste instead of this and the following ingredient; I didn’t have any on hand)
1 Tbsp chili garlic paste
1 tsp Sichuan peppers, toasted and ground
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp cold water

To make the “beefy” bulgur, place 1 1/2 cups of the broth, the tomato paste, and the bulgur in a small pot and bring to a boil.

Cover and lower the heat to medium low. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until broth is completely incorporated. Set aside.

While the bulgur is cooking, prep the rest of the ingredients. When stir-frying or making other very quick-cooking dishes, you always want to have everything prepared and waiting for you before you begin heating the wok because it goes very quickly once you do. I love using my little restaurantware Chinese tea cups – which my mom got for me and which I love – for prepping (as well as for tea) because they are just the right size. Place the shaoxing wine or sherry and fermented black beans in one small dish; mix the bean paste and chili paste in another. In yet another, combine the remaining stock and the soy sauce. In still another, mix together the cornstarch and cold water. Measure out the Sichuan pepper, mince or press the garlic, and mince or grate the ginger.

Chop the tofu.

When the bulgur is ready, heat a wok over medium high heat. When it is sizzling hot, add a small amount of peanut oil, then add the garlic and ginger, stir-frying for 30 seconds.

Add the bulgur and stir fry for about 3 minutes, or until it’s a bit dried out.

Push the bulgur out of the way, up the side of the wok, and add the shaoxing wine and fermented black beans to the center of the wok. Stir fry for 30 seconds.

Add the bean and chili pastes and stir fry for another 30 seconds.

Push the bulgur back down into the center of the wok and mix everything up. Fry for 2 minutes.

Add the tofu and toss gently with the wok ingredients, trying not to break it up too much.

Pour in the remaining broth and the soy sauce and stir. Bring to a boil, then add the cornstarch mixture.

Mix everything together until the cornstarch mixture thickens the sauce and coats everything with a slighty shiny glaze.

If I’d had had scallions on hand, I’d have topped with scallions, but I didn’t so I topped with cilantro for that slightly green touch.

Serve with rice.

Next, explain to me what Tigger is doing here:

In other news, another thing my mother likes buying for me is vintage mustard pots, and I don’t deter her from this habit. Then I feel the need to fill the mustard pots with mustard! I’ve been wanting to do a post on homemade mustard for a while, but when I saw Jes’s post on the balsamic mustard from the Perfect Pantry on Cupcake Punk a couple of weeks ago, I had to make it. So although I’ll get to an original mustard recipe at some point in time, enjoy these photos of a really, really good mustard in the meantime.

Here it is in my newest mustard pot:

Closer up:

And on some Cheezly and crackers:

In just two weeks I’ll be in the San Francisco airport getting ready to board my flight to Sydney! If anyone has any suggestions for great things to do or great vegan food to eat while I’m there, please let me know!

Comments (9)

Chinese New Year

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

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

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

Pot Stickers

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

I used a chopper to mince the veggies:

Mix with the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.

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

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

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

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

Roll dough out into a long “rope”.

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

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

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

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

Place a scant tablespoon of the filling in the center:

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

Open the press and remove the dumpling.

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

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

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

Continue pleating the entire semi-circle:

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

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

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

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

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

The dumplings will have puffed up a bit.

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

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

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

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

Tofu and Spinach Soup

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

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

Cook for 5 minutes. Eat.

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

Comments (8)