Stuffed Globe Zucchini, and RIP Grandmother

So, my grandmother passed away on June 7. I didn’t mention it earlier because I was trying to think of a good food-related tribute to her. The problem is, although she liked to cook when I was younger and I always looked forward to special treats like roast beef when we visited (yes, I liked meat when I was little; I liked everything), it’s been really hot here and I just haven’t been in the mood to make some spectacular seitan roast.

But then I realized that seitan roast wasn’t really the right thing anyway. The one food that always makes me think of Grandmother is butternut squash. I lived with Grandmother for my first two years of college because her house was much closer to campus than the parental homestead. Honestly, it wasn’t a great arrangement: I was too wild for her and she was too restrictive for me. I think everyone was a lot happier when I moved into an apartment with a friend. But there were some high points in there. For example, although she’d never really had to cook regularly for a vegetarian before that time, she never once hassled me about my diet and instead went out of her way to buy me fresh vegetables and when she found things she hadn’t used before, she learned how to cook them, just for me. In particular I recall that the first time I ever had butternut squash was when she cut one in half, roasted it, and topped it with butter and a little brown sugar. I loved it! I remember, for some reason – it’s a weird thing to remember, once looking at my fingernails and noticing they looked really good and thinking to myself, “wow, I look and feel so healthy; it must be all the fresh food Grandmother is making me.” I don’t know how true that is, considering I just as often stuffed my face with pizza, french fries, and beer like any other college student, but now that I think back on it, the time I spent living with her was probably the first time I started thinking about vegetarianism from a health standpoint, and the first time I felt healthy effects from it. I never buy a butternut squash without thinking of Grandmother, and I almost always make it the same way she made it for me.

Unfortunately, butternut squash is not in season and there are none to be had. But I made something for dinner the other night that I thought was in the same spirit of things and probably similar to a dish Grandmother made for me when I lived with her. It might not be a recipe I got from her (and once she discovered the internet, she did email me tons of vegan recipes she found online), but I think it’s something she’d be happy enough to be remembered by.

Stuffed Globe Zucchini
Globe zucchini are a farmers market favorite and are ideal for stuffing with stuff.

2 globe zucchini
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/3 cup vegan sausage, crumbled
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
spaghetti sauce (or use tomato sauce and add some seasonings of your choice)

Another reason this meal had a grandmotherly feel to it was it was very frugal, and having lived through the Depression, Grandmother was a fairly frugal person. It took me no time at all to assemble because the rice and sausage were left over from the night before and the spaghetti sauce was part of a small bit I found in my freezer, which I removed to make room for a large May Wah shipment I ordered on a whim when they sent me an email about a sale. So to make the filling all I did was mix everything together with the chopped insides of the zucchini. But I’ll describe the steps as if I were making it from scratch.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat a small bit of oil in a skillet and brown the sausage and onion. Add the garlic and cook another minute or two, then stir in the rice and cook another minute or so. Finally, stir in the spaghetti sauce. Set aside.

Slice the top off each zucchini, then use a knife or a serrated grapefruit spoon to scoop out the insides, leaving a medium-thick wall all around. Chop up the “guts” you removed and add about half of it to the rice mixture. (You can save the other half for another use.) Spoon some of the rice mixture into each zucchini, trying to compact it a little bit. You can mound it up a bit as well.

Bake for about 45 minutes, then remove and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. I baked mine in the toaster oven, which was a perfect fit and didn’t heat up the kitchen. Since the tops of the zucchinis were so close to the top of the toaster oven, though, I covered them lightly with aluminum foil to prevent scorching.

I served it with a couple of vegan “drumsticks”, just because the May Wah shipment had arrived and I figured I’d better get started on eating it.

I asked my mother to send me some pictures of me and Grandmother together. She sent me a bunch but I liked this one because Grandmother has a cat on her lap. My love of cats was directly inherited from my mother, who inherited it from her mother. That side of the family has always grown up with cats, and in particular, Siamese cats. (Which I think Jes will like.) The handsome man is my grandfather, whom I called Bobby in imitation of my Grandmother (toddler Renae liked the sound of the word “Bobby”), and who died way too young.

I was struck that almost half of the pictures Mom sent were pictures of Grandmother reading to a little Renae.

I’m pretty sure I’m wearing a totally awesome kitten shirt in this picture.

No wonder I’m a bookworm!

Another thing that stands out about my grandmother is she was always on the forefront of new technology. She was the first person I knew to get cable television and we’d all crowd around her set and watch MTV when it was in its infancy. I’m not old enough that electric typewriters were a “new technology”, but I had a weird typing obsession as a kid so she taught me how to touch type and bought me an electric typewriter. Because I was the type of child who asked for a typewriter. While we had a standard Atari game console, Grandmother had an Atari computer. I was online before just about everyone I knew, but my grandmother’s was probably the second or third email address I ever sent email to. One thing she didn’t seem to believe in was a paperless society, because she has binders full of printouts of every single web page I’ve ever had, most of which are just embarrassing. I was flipping through one such binder one of the last times I was at her house and she had printed out a review I wrote of Aleister Crowley’s Diary of a Drug Fiend. It was a very negative review – more of a rant, really – but still I was wondering why in the world she’d want to read, let alone print out and preserve for posterity, such a thing. The reason is, her granddaughter wrote it; that’s the only reason she needed. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is she was a very progressive lady in her way. Definitely not a technophobe like some members of generations older than mine (I’m looking at you, Dad!).

Rest in peace, Grandmother. Thanks for reading to me, teaching me to type, letting me play your video games, watching MTV with me, taking me on trips to look at tiny ponies, tolerating (to some extent) me living with you, feeding me, introducing me to butternut squash and a myriad of fresh vegetables, reading my websites, sending me email, and the very Grandmother-like binder I have full of vegan recipes you found online and emailed me after I told you I’d gone vegan and what that meant. Many of those recipes were the very first vegan dishes I ever cooked, in fact, the first real cooking I did. So there’s a little of you in I Eat Food.

In other news, Mark and I were unluckily caught in the derecho Friday night. I was driving on I95 South, coming home from Baltimore and watching what we thought was just heat lightning constantly light up the sky, when without a shred of warning, a sudden hurricane-force wind pushed our Jeep over into another lane. Fortunately no one else was there, but it was scary. So I pulled off into a parking lot away from trees and we sat it out and watched it. I’m kicking myself for not taking pictures. News radio warned us of complete and utter mayhem, with millions of power outages, thousands of downed trees, accidents, and other travel nightmares, but although it was very, very, very dark, once we got back on the highway, our drive was relatively easy. Luck wasn’t with those on the inner loop of the Capital Beltway, but for us on the outer loop there were only a couple minor disturbances. And although it looked very much like we would be coming home to a dark house with no A/C during this record-breaking heatwave, we were again extremely lucky to have power once we finally made it home. So we are feeling very fortunate. Most of our neighbors are not as lucky. In fact, there is no power or water at the raccoon sanctuary, so let me tell you: today was fun. I’m actually heading back there now to take the raccoons more bottled water from our house, as well as some laundry I did for them. These are some wild raccoons that were restless in the heat around high noon today:

Raccoons usually come out at night, but they will make appearances during the day: it does NOT mean they are rabid. (That’s today’s Raccoon Fun Fact!)

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My Mother’s Cobbler

I mentioned to my mom the other week that I had made French vanilla ice cream using the recipe from the ice cream e-book from Hannah of BitterSweet, and she wondered if I wouldn’t like to make the cobbler recipe she’s been playing with this summer to accompany the ice cream. I don’t make many desserts, as you may have noticed, but cobbler sounded right up my alley: easy, fast, fool-proof, fruit-filled (and therefore healthy, right?), and in this case, served in cute little individual portions. I’ve made the peach cobbler version here, but suggestions for other flavors, per my mom, follow.

Renae’s Mom’s Peach Cobbler

4 cups peaches, sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup flour
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
6 Tbsp non-dairy milk
4 Tbsp vegan margarine, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the peaches and place in a bowl. I assumed 4 peaches would equal 4 cups and was right on the money.

Stir together the cinnamon with 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl.

Toss the cinnamon sugar with the peaches.

Divide the peaches amongst four 10-ounce oven-safe custard cups.

Whisk or stir together the flour, baking powder, and remaining sugar.

Add the margarine and non-dairy milk and stir until just mixed.

Spoon the batter evenly over the peaches.

Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown (I baked for 25 minutes).

Enjoy with vanilla ice cream or vegan whipped cream. Or just eat it plain like we did since I haven’t had a chance to make ice cream this week.

Other flavors, per Mum:

Blackberry: As above, but eliminate the cinnamon. Mom used a pint of blackberries and found that it made 6 10-ounce cobblers, so if you make it with blackberries, either eat 1/3 of the pint first, or make 1 1/2 times the batter to cover 6 custard cups.

Apple: As above, but add 2 teaspoons lemon juice and replace the 1/4 cup sugar with 6 tablespoons brown sugar.

This was quite tasty and so easy. I whipped them up as a late evening treat and was so fast and stealthy about it that when I presented Mark with his cobbler, he was shocked: he had no idea I’d been baking anything. (Actually, he’s always shocked when I make a dessert. I’m just more a dinner person.) I think I need to make ice cream to go with the remaining two cobblers though!

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Summer Squash Casserole

This was another recipe scavenged from my mother’s recipe box, and another one that I don’t remember her actually making. It’s probably more of a summer dish, but I made it anyway. It’s called Summer Squash Casserole, which I think sort of implies it’s intended for yellow squash although I believe zucchini qualifies as “summer squash”. All I can get right now is zucchini, so I that’s what I used.

I won’t bother transcribing the original because all I did was swap out cheddar for nutritional yeast and a little dijon mustard, butter for olive oil, and Better Than Sour Cream for real sour cream.

Summer Squash Casserole

1 summer squash
1 small onion
1 tsp olive oil (original called for 1 Tbsp butter or margarine)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/3 cup vegan “sour cream”
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp bread crumbs (I used panko)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the squash …

… and the onion.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add olive oil and bring it up to temperature. Add the onions and squash.

Meanwhile, mix together the “sour cream”, nutritional yeast, dijon mustard, thyme, and paprika in a small bowl.

When the squash and onions are slightly brown, remove from heat.

Stir the “sour cream” mixture into the squash and onions and place in a small baking dish.

Top with bread crumbs.

Bake for 20 minutes.


This was okay. Honestly I don’t usually adorn side-dish veggies with sauce or casserolize them; I prefer them simply steamed or sautéed. I think this may be good with a summer meal. Mark, a certified zucchini hater, ate an entire serving, though, so that’s certainly a good thing. I think I may be conquering his zucchini fear, though. Maybe he didn’t realize what it was.

Also featured in the photo above is something else I’ve been working on, but I’m not quite ready for a post yet.

In cat news, I’m always trumpeting Brachtune as the “good” cat. I throw around phrases like “my little angel”, “my sweet little love dove”, and “my perfectly-behaved little princess” in relation to Brachtune. Lately, though, Brachtune has picked up one of Tigger’s annoying habits: internet hacking. I came into the library to upload my summer squash casserole photos and found this:

She had done a search on Amazon, Google, Wikipedia and seven other sites for “hhhhhhhhhggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhgggghhhghgh”, hidden a couple of my photo directories and password-protected them – something I didn’t even know you could DO in Picasa – and turned off my touchpad.

Meanwhile, Tigger is curled up in the cat tree right behind Brachtune (you can see it, but not Tiggs, in the background of the Brachtune-being-bad picture), sleeping half on a router and half on the lap of a headless doll. He’s really been loving that headless doll lately. These cats are weird.

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“Hamburger” Noodle Bake

I don’t remember often hankering for any particular meals when I was a kid. I ate just about everything and I think I was relatively happy regardless of what my mother served on any given night, although I wasn’t very happy when she insisted on making breakfast (eggs or pancakes) for dinner. Really, the food I remember most fondly from my childhood is the salads my mom and I made just about every night in the summers, with vegetables grown in our own garden. Other than the occasional brownies or cake from a mix, picking the veggies for the nightly salad was about the only “cooking” I did as a kid. And my mom even made her own croutons, can you believe that?!

Anyway, apart from salads, although I remember particularly liking special-occasion meals like baked ham and roast beef, I don’t remember ever requesting my mother make any particular meals…except once, when I remember asking for “that noodle stuff with the meat and cheese” for my birthday dinner. When I went through her recipes this weekend, I discovered it is called Hamburger Noodle Bake and it was my great-aunt’s recipe, and although Mom didn’t make it all that often, I guess it made a big impression on me because I’ve never forgotten it (unlike the alleged pork chops). As more and more years have passed since I became vegetarian (more than 20 now), I’ve forgotten what the dish really tasted like, but I have never forgotten liking it. At long last, the memory is restored!

The original:

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 T. shortening
1 1/2 lb hamburger
1 med. onion
1 tsp salt
3 8-oz cans tomato sauce
1 8-oz package noodles
1 tsp sugar
1 3-oz package cream cheese
1 cup sour cream

Melt fat in skillet. Put in hamburger and brown. Add onion, salt, pepper, sugar, and tomato sauce and cover; cook 15-20 minutes. Cook noodles according to pkg. Combine cream cheese and sour cream together and add in layers starting with noodles, cream cheese mix, and meat Cover with cheddar cheese. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Now mine:

“Hamburger” Noodle Bake

1 medium onion, diced
1 12-oz package vegan “ground beef”
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (optional, as it wasn’t in the original)
1 tsp salt
freshly-ground pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar or 2 drops stevia (optional; I won’t use next time)
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
8 oz noodles (the rombi shape I used was perfect)
3 oz vegan “cream cheese” (I measured for those of you who don’t have a kitchen scale: it’s about 1/3 cup)
1 cup vegan “sour cream”
1/2 cup grated vegan “cheddar cheese” (I can really only recommend Cheezly, but I realize with grocery bills being what they are right now, most of you outside of the UK are going to think I’m crazy.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Weigh noodles. I usually never scale pasta and just guess at serving sizes, and I always vastly over-estimate. So tonight I scaled it!

Cook the pasta al dente and drain. Meanwhile, bring a large skillet up to medium heat and then add a bit of oil. When oil is warm, add the onions and saute until translucent.

Add the “ground beef” and cook for 5 minutes.

Next I added garlic because I found it inconceivable it wasn’t called for, but that’s just me.

Add the tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and sugar or stevia if using and stir to mix.

Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the cream cheese and sour cream in a small bowl.

Grate the “cheddar cheese”.

Place the noodles into a casserole dish. I sprayed it lightly with olive oil so they wouldn’t stick.

Cover noodles with the cream cheese/sour cream mixture …

… then top with the “meat” and sauce mixture.

Top with the “cheddar cheese”.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Serve with a tossed salad (I do wish for those halcyon days of having a garden that grew an entire salad!) or plenty of veggies.

I made a super-easy zucchini dish by sauteing a sliced zucchini with a few onion slices, then tossing with Hawaiian red salt and freshly-ground pepper. I also steamed some broccoli because I figured Mark wouldn’t touch the zucchini, however, he not only helped himself to some, he stole a slice or two off my plate while we were eating! This is highly unusual; I think it was the salt. Must remember to put red salt on things I want Mark to eat…

Mark, who is on a big health kick, has a habit of asking me if everything I make is “bad for you”. As a general rule, very few things I make are actually downright bad for you, and he actually asks this question of things like steamed broccoli, so the answer he generally gets is, “Are you insane?” His question was a bit more relevant than usual in regards to this meal, because it was made with several processed and convenience foods, which I generally like to avoid or use sparingly. So I told him it wasn’t as great for him as most meals I make, although probably better than the original. However, I wanted to know what this meal from my memory banks really tasted like, and making it with Tofutti products and commercial vegan “ground beef” was the closest I was going to get to that – and it worked: it tasted right. But as I was pulling it together, my mind was already churning with ways to healthify it – or in other words, in typical Renae fashion, make it much more difficult than it needs to be – and sophistify it. I’m thinking bulgur instead of “beef”, cashew and/or tofu cream for the “cheese”, and whole wheat noodles. And I felt the tomato sauce was just calling for wine. It is my plan, therefore, to repeat this meal, using whole foods. I think it will be a fun experiment.

This meal also reminded me of one I was served more frequently as a child: Hamburger Helper.

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“Cheese”-Topped Green Beans

This is one of the recipes I got from my mother’s recipe box that I don’t remember her ever making. It was in my aunt’s handwriting, so I suspect my aunt made it for us at one time and we liked it, so she gave my mom the recipe. But speculation is all I have on this one. I won’t bother typing out the original because really the only substitution I made was vegan Parmesan for the real thing.

“Cheese”-Topped Green Beans

1 lb fresh green beans
1/4 cup dry onion soup mix
1 cup water
1 Tbsp vegan margarine (original recipe called for 3 Tbsp; I found 1 Tbsp to be plenty)
1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds
3 Tbsp grated vegan Parmesan (I used Bryanna’s okara parmesan)
1/2 tsp paprika

Trim the green beans.

Place the green beans, water, and soup mix in a medium sized pot. Because all I could find at Whole Foods was French onion dip mix and not onion soup mix, I also included a teaspoon of “beef” bouillon.

Cover and cook over medium low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until green beans are tender.

Meanwhile, toast the almond slivers over medium heat. This should take about 3 to 5 minutes.

When the green beans are ready, drain.

Place green beans in a serving dish (I just returned them to the pot since it was just me and Mark), then toss with the margarine, almonds, and “Parmesan”. Top with paprika.

The green beans weren’t actually in focus in any of the pictures I took of the plated meal last night, so I don’t have a presentation photo for you. Mark really liked these; he ate two rather large servings. I tasted a green bean before adding the “cheese” and actually liked it better than I did after adding the “cheese”, but after a few bites, it grew on me.

By the way, Mark reports that last night’s baked ham was really good on a sandwich today, in fact, he had a sandwich for breakfast and then requested one for dinner. I had already started on veganizing another old recipe for dinner, however, so stay tuned tomorrow for another episode of My Family Recipes!

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Grandmother’s Bean and (Non-)Bacon Chowder

It’s another Pig-approved post!

When my mother saw my Smoked Seitan Butt post and noticed it included vegetarian bacon bits, she thought I might like to try veganizing the following recipe of my grandmother’s:

Bean and Bacon Chowder

1 lb. pea beans (washed)
16 slices bacon (1 lb.)
2 cups chopped onions
2 (28 oz.) cans tomatoes
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. basil
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
4 beef bullion cubes, dissolved in 4 cups boiling water
2 T. sugar

Simmer beans in 4 cups water for 3-4 minutes in Dutch oven. Cool 1 hour. Drain water. Fry bacon until crisp; crumble and add to beans. Save bacon drippings. Saute onions in drippings until golden. Add to beans with tomatoes, salt, pepper, basil, tomato paste, bullion and water, and sugar. Cover and simmer 4-5 hours or until beans are cooked. Makes 4 quarts.

So that’s exactly what I did yesterday! Here’s my version; I’ve also halved her amounts:

Bean and Non-Bacon Chowder

8 oz navy beans
1 small or 1/2 large onion, chopped
1 cup diced UnPork
1 28 oz or two 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes (fire roasted is good here)
2 tsp vegan “beef” bouillon
1/4 cup vegan bacon bits
1 Tbsp sugar or 9 drops stevia
1/2 tsp basil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups water

Soak the beans overnight. (Or you can quick-soak them as described by my grandmother above.) Dice the UnPork.

In a Dutch oven (preferably cast iron), heat some olive oil. Add the onions and UnPork …

… and cook until onions are beginning to caramelize and UnPork is crispy, deglazing the pan with white wine (or broth or water) as necessary.

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and bring to a simmer, then add the bouillon and stir to combine.

Add the rest of the ingredients, …

… cover, and simmer for 4 to 5 hours or until beans are done.

If I had realized that this was going to take 4 to 5 hours even after soaking the beans for what turned out to be 24 hours, I would have made it in the pressure cooker, which I suspect would have taken 45 minutes. I was thinking it would take 2 hours. We probably could have eaten it after 2 hours, but I wanted the beans to be softer, so I kept staving off hunger with a slice of beer bread and waiting another hour…until it was midnight. I also had to add water to thin it back out a couple of times. Next time it is definitely the pressure cooker!

I can’t say that I remember eating this at my grandmother’s, but the aroma was very familiar, so I guess I remember smelling it.

Serve with a loaf of crusty (and preferably beer-filled!) bread and salad.

Something about this chowder made Mark want to pose like a senior portrait. Mark is a unique individual.

This is unrelated to food (although he did write an article for Gourmet magazine), but David Foster Wallace is dead. This is especially shocking to me because I am actually currently reading Infinite Jest. RIP, David.

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Grandmother’s Chili Con Carne

I felt like veganizing another old recipe tonight. This is my grandmother’s recipe for Chili Con Carne, which I picked out because I thought topping it with one of the new Cheezly flavors that arrived Friday would be a good way to test the cheese out. I often find myself wishing I had discovered my interest in cooking long before I did so that I could have apprenticed myself under my grandmother before she died, or better, that she had lived longer. I’m positive she would have happily helped me make vegetarian meals. Here’s the original, rather vague recipe:

Cook ground beef, 2 onions, and pepper until brown. Add 1 can tomatoes and 1 can kidney beans. (Pour broth off kidney beans before adding.) Combine 3 Tbsp. vinegar, 2 tsp. salt, 3 Tbsp. Chili powder, and dash red pepper. Simmer 40 minutes.

So I set about looking for beef substitutes. First I thought of TVP, which would have also been good for nostalgic purposes, reminding me of all the times my college roommate and I made huge pots of Fantastic’s Chili, but I discovered I had less than a cup of TVP. Next I thought of bulgur, which is a great texture for chili, but I had even less bulgur. But I probably had enough of both combined, so that’s what I did. You could use one instead of the other and still have great results, although you may have to adjust the amount of water. Bulgur requires more water than TVP, so just keep that in mind.

Grandmother’s Chili Con Carne

1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)
1 can kidney beans, rinsed
4 cups vegetable or vegan “beef” broth
1/2 cup bulgur
3/4 cup TVP
3 Tbsp vinegar (I used white wine; apple cider would have been good too)
3 Tbsp chili powder
minced hot pepper or hot sauce to taste (reduce the amount of vinegar if you use a vinegar-based hot sauce)

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, then add a small amount of oil. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the green pepper and cook for another 2 minutes.

Rinse the beans …

… then add to the pot with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, …

… reduce heat to medium low, and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, until the bulgur is soft and the chili is as thick as you desire.

If you like, top with shredded vegan cheese and/or vegan sour cream.

The Nacho-flavored Cheezly was really good, both by itself and on the chili. I love Cheezly. As for the chili, it was good. I will definitely make it again. It was simple, easy, and very fast: a great weekday meal.

As Tigger and I were busy in the kitchen prepping the chili, I heard thundering cat paws in the living room. Quickly and quietly, I grabbed my camera and tip-toed into the room, viewfinder to eyeball and finger on shutter. Despite my stealth, Brachtune, who had been enjoying a Tigger-free reprieve and batting around one of the Cat Toys For Cats, heard me approaching and immediately stopped playing and started walking towards me. It’s so impossible to catch her playing; she always abandons her games and approaches me looking for love.

Then she gets her face so close to the camera, I can’t focus.

It’s much easier when she’s half asleep.

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Imperial Deviled Tofu

A fact about me: I’m from Baltimore, hon. Which means that although I haven’t eaten a crab in 20 years, I know that if you don’t put Old Bay on them, you aren’t doing it right. It also means that I miss eating crabs from time to time. Not so much any more, in fact, they kind of gross me out these days, but I totally miss crabs more than, say, steak.

So when I was rooting through some old family stuff and came across a newspaper clipping for an Imperial Deviled Crab recipe, the gears in my brain started churning. Could I? Possibly? Should I even dare attempt to veganize a recipe chock full of seafood, cream, butter, and eggs?!

Yes! Yes, I should!

I’m not sure how old this clipping is but I’m nearly certain it came from The Baltimore Sun. It says it’s the Rennert Hotel’s recipe and originally came from a book called Eat, Drink and Be Merry in Maryland by Frederick Steiff published in 1931.

Here’s the original recipe in its quaint little imprecise format:

Simmer the flakes of 2 crabs and 1/2 a chopped onion in butter, season with salt and cayenne pepper, add 2 cups of thick cream sauce, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoonful of English mustard, a little chopped chives, bring to a boil and bind with the yolks of 2 eggs. Add a little green and Spanish pepper chopped fine. Fill crab shells, spread a little French mustard and a sprinkle of bread crumbs over the top. Place a small piece of butter on each and bake in the oven until brown (15 to 20 minutes). Serve with lemon.

My first challenge was the crab itself. I had a block of homemade tofu that needed to be used today or else, so tofu crab it was. But I didn’t want to spend all day marinading it in something to make it taste seafoodish. So I did the following, which was all just on impulse more than for any thought-out reason.

Tofu Crabmeat

The only tofu I had was already in the pot cooking so I had to use a stand-in in the ingredient photograph.

1 lb tofu (pressed unless it is homemade and very firm)
4 cups water
1/4 cup dulse
1 Tbsp MSG (I got this idea from the UnSeafood recipes in Simply Heavenly!, but you can just omit it)
1 tsp kelp powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Old Bay
1 tsp dry mustard

The reason for the Old Bay is Old Bay is necessary for crabs, period. The reason for the mustard is there is this stuff in crabs called the “mustard”, which looks and I guess tastes sort of mustardy (and what it really is is pretty gross), so mustard just seemed appropriate.

Anyway, put all ingredients except the tofu into a pressure cooker and bring to a boil. Cut the tofu into four slabs as depicted in this photo:

Put the tofu into the pressure cooker as well …

… and bring up to pressure, then cook for 20 minutes. Bring the pressure back down by placing the pot in the sink and running cold water over it before removing the lid. Remove the tofu …

… and dice it.

At this point I felt the texture of the tofu was interesting, but maybe not quite as firm as I wanted it. So I microwaved it for two minutes, which did seem to firm it up a bit.

The funny part about making the tofu crab is I didn’t tell Mark anything at all about my intentions. He had no idea what was in store for dinner. But he came into the kitchen while the tofu was in the pressure cooker and exclaimed, “Are you cooking crabs!?” So it sure smelled authentic! That might be because crabs smell like Old Bay, of course. But with the seaweed as well, it did smell very seafood-y and crabby. And since olfactory senses are very tightly tied to the sense of taste, that’s half the battle right there!

The next step was making the “thick cream sauce” mandated by the recipe. I’m not a big lover of rich, heavy cream in savory dishes (or even sweet dishes for that matter). Fettucine Alfredo and the likes just aren’t for me, so I don’t really have a go-to recipe for heavy cream sauces. What I did have on-hand was some MimicCreme because I use it in ice cream. So here is what I threw together for the “thick cream sauce”:

Thick Vegan Savory Cream Sauce

1 Tbsp Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups unsweetened MimicCreme
1 tsp vegan “chicken” bouillon

In a small but heavy pot, melt the margarine. Then whisk in the flour to make a roux.

Add the salt and the MimicCreme, whisking constantly until completely smooth. Bring to a simmer and add the bouillon. Continue whisking until smooth and thickened.

Okay! With those two hurdles out of the way, I was ready to embark on the real adventure!

Imperial Deviled Tofu

1 large shallot or 1/2 onion, diced
1 pound tofu crab meat (recipe above)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp chives, chopped
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/4 cup pimento, diced
1 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp dry mustard
1 recipe thick vegan savory cream sauce (recipe above)
egg replacer for 1 egg (I used En-R-G)
1 cup bread crumbs (I used panko), divided
2 Tbsp dijon mustard
sweet paprika, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

My cast iron skillet is a getting a workout lately, isn’t it?! So…in a large skillet, heat a small amount of oil or margarine, then add shallots or onion and fry for a minute. Add the tofu “crab”, salt, and cayenne pepper, frying until shallots are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the chives, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, green pepper and pimento.

Fry for 2 minutes. Add the cream sauce.

Bring to a simmer and add the egg replacer. When it thickens, stir in 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs.

Remove from heat and divide amongst two ramekins or other individually-sized serving dishes. Top each with half of the remaining bread crumbs, spread each with 1 Tbsp of the dijon mustard, and sprinkle each with paprika.

Cook for 20 minutes or until brown and crispy on top.

And here it is plated:

Verdict from Smark? Well, he’s busy killing something in World of Warcraft tonight, so he’s eating down in his man-cave. He came up to get a helping of the crab dish and took a bite before going back down. “It’s really good,” he said, “but not as good as what you made Saturday night.” Well, I could handle that, I thought. Mark doesn’t lie, at least not convincingly, about my food, so if he said it was good, I figured it was good enough to post here.

But guess what? Before I had even finished photographing my meal for you and sitting down to eat myself (with Tigger and a book), Smark resurfaced, announcing, “This was so good I need a second serving!”” he said. “Are you revising your earlier opinion?” I asked. “Yes! The ‘crab’ is really, really good! It tastes like real crab – I think. The texture is great!”

So with that, I think it moved into the realm of “would make again”. I might try to perfect the tofu crab recipe. Since I make my own tofu, I’m thinking I can infuse it with seafoody flavors while I’m making it. Sounds like a pretty fun experiment, eh?

By the way, one of Tigger’s favorite places to sleep is Mark’s laptop bag. It’s his little nest.

I’m really lucky I married someone who loves Tigger as much as I do.

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Smoked Seitan Butt and Green Beans

Pork is somewhat of a mystery meat to me. In fact, until as recently as last week, I went around proclaiming I’ve never eaten pork in my life. I wasn’t raised vegetarian, or Jewish, or Muslim, we simply didn’t eat a wide variety of meats when I was growing up. All I really remember ever eating is ground beef, chicken, fish sticks, hot dogs, and Steak-Ums. My favorite was ham, but I only got that at my grandmother’s. Now, I know pork comes from pigs and ham comes from pigs, but still I don’t know if ham is a subset of pork or vice versa or what, and frankly, I don’t care to know. All I knew is my family at no time ever served me anything and called it “pork”, and as I became vegetarian at 15, I figured I’d never eaten it.

But then last weekend my mother told me that she and my aunt had made Smoked Butt and Green Beans, a family recipe she made from time to time when I was growing up, for my dad Saturday night, and it turns out that the “butt” is actually “pork butt”. So I guess I have eaten pork. I can remember laughing at the name of the meal when I was a kid and asking why it was called “butt” and my parents telling me it was the butt of the pig and me not believing them. Talk about avoiding the issue of where your food comes from! I thought someone was just being silly when they named the meal. I’ve always been an animal lover and I’m not sure I would have wanted to eat it if I had really thought it was an animal’s butt, but on the other hand, I was far from being a picky eater and loved meat as much as any other food until I started thinking about things more thoroughly. My mom recently transcribed parts of my baby book and apparently at even at three months, baby Renae ate “everything”.

Anyway, my mom included the recipe for Smoked Butt And Green Beans in her email with the note, “I guess you can’t really veganize it.” A-ha! Challenge alert! At first I wasn’t too interested in trying to veganize it because it’s so simple that much of the flavor must come from the “butt” and not only do I not care to eat stuff that tastes like meat, but I honestly haven’t the faintest idea what smoked butt or any type of pork tastes like. I do remember eating it, but no particular memory of the taste comes to mind. But then I found myself with some leftover seitan and some green beans for which I had no other plans, and I know that Smark likes smoky flavors, so I started thinking maybe I would veganize that recipe after all.

The important thing here, I think, is not to think you’re really eating pork or anything that tastes remotely like pork. I have no idea what pork tastes like, so all I tried to do was give it a smoky edge, even though my mom says smoked butt doesn’t taste that smoky to her and if it did, she wouldn’t like it. Other than that, the name, “Smoked Butt” is appropriate because the leftover chunk of seitan I had really did look like the butt of some seitan!

The original recipe, which my mother got from her mother, is thus:

1 peck green beans
5 lbs. potatoes (cut in pieces)
1 (2 lb.) smoked pork butt (cut in 1/4s)
1 onion
salt & pepper
2 tsp. sugar per lb. green beans

Put green beans and butt in large pot with onion, salt, pepper, and sugar. Cook on slow boil for about 4 hours. Add potatoes, bring to a boil again; and then cook on a slow boil for another 1/2 hours or until potatoes are done.

Pretty simple, eh? Well, enough blabbing from me: on with the veganizing! Choose your seitan wisely for this one. Because it’s such a simple recipe, pick a flavorful rather than bland seitan. Vegan Dad’s Veggie Lunch Meat or Everyday Dish’s Corned Beef would be good, and Bryanna’s Soy and Seitan “Ham” (about 2/3 of the way down the page) is a logical choice. Who cares if what you choose tastes like or is supposed to taste like pork though? Just pick something you like the taste of.

Here’s what I did:

8 cups vegan “chicken” broth
6 drops stevia or 2 tsp sugar
1-2 tsp liquid smoke
3 Tbsp vegan “bacon bits”
1 pound green beans, trimmed and either chopped or frenched (I frenched them because I’m fancy, and also I thought they’d cook faster that way…and because I have a nifty bean slicer that I like to give an occasional workout)
1 pound seitan, sliced somewhat thickly
1 pound potatoes, chopped (or not, if you use peewees like I did)
1 onion, sliced
salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

Put the broth into a large pot or Dutch oven and begin heating. Meanwhile, fry the seitan slices in a bit of oil.

Drain on a paper towel and when cool enough to touch, rip up into bite-sized pieces.

Trim the green beans …

… and either french-cut them or chop them into 2″ pieces:

(my bean slicer is fun)

Add the bacon bits, liquid smoke, stevia or sugar, seitan, green beans, onions, salt, and pepper to the broth and bring to a boil.

Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for half an hour. Add the potatoes and continue to simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are done.

To serve, remove solid pieces with a slotted spoon.

I think I probably could have gotten away with throwing everything including the potatoes into the pot and just cooking for half an hour, maybe 45 minutes if I had chopped instead of frenched the green beans. I don’t know why the green beans cook for four whole hours in the original recipe. I also could have doubled the green beans; they were my favorite part. (Mark’s favorite part was the seitan.) I have to say that I wasn’t expecting much from this recipe. I mostly did it just for kicks, because my mother said I probably couldn’t, and figuring that even if it was turned out really boring, we could just put hot sauce on it: everything is good with hot sauce on it. It turned out pretty well, though. Mark really liked it and ate two bowls-full, then drank the leftover liquid out of his bowl. It’s a great way to use up leftover seitan and I’d make it again. I might add baby carrots next time; I bet that would be a good addition.

By the way, I googled “what does pork taste like?” as a research attempt before starting this meal and learned that it apparently tastes like human. Um, gross?

At any rate, smoked seitan butt is very metal!

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