Zucchini Gratin, Lemon-Basil Seitan

Hello, I’ve missed you! I have recipes! With really, really, really bad photos!! In fact, the photos are so bad I’m ashamed of them, especially as someone who has urged you to keep up on my life if you’d like to by going to my photo blog, though I tell you the photos there are of a little higher quality. I’ve been doing a lot of things, and even posting regularly (though perhaps not as personally) on my photo blog, but I sure haven’t been posting here, have I? I’m not going to make any promises that I’ll be posting regularly now, but I did make a dish or two last night I liked enough to want to record, so here I am.

And what have I been doing with my time instead of cooking magnificent, blog-worthy food? A lot of wildlife volunteering, of course. I have regular shifts at two different wildlife hospitals here, which I absolutely love. It’s very interesting working in two very different places, and it’s going to be REALLY interesting in the next month or so when baby wildlife season starts. I have so much to learn, especially about all the non-raccoon and non-raptor species as well as the differences between Virginia and California species. I’m interested in caring for all animals, although both hospitals are aware of my special interest in both raptors and rabies-vector species and I’ve have started working with the education raptors (and other species) at one of the hospitals and have been handling rehab raptors at the other. California seems to be a lot more rehab-friendly than Virginia was and my volunteer work here has been my favorite thing about California. It’s really great.

My next favorite thing about California is NATURE. It took me a while to get used to the parks here as they are very different than Virginia’s parks, and arriving during the middle of summer AND a drought was probably not an ideal introduction. All the parks were dry, brown, hot, hilly, open, and apparently devoid of wildlife when I first got here. As it turns out, though, winter in California is a magical time. I despised winter in Virginia, but in California, everything turns green – and not just an ordinary green, but a GLOWING green – and thousands and thousands of raptors migrate through here: the parks have become extremely beautiful and I don’t know if there is just more wildlife this time of year or if I’ve gotten luckier, but I’ve started to see so many more animals that it may be even better than Virginia. Plus the weather is amazing: comfortable temperatures and NO SNOW. The San Francisco Bay area is a very populous, congested area, yet there are so many parks and open spaces, it’s pretty amazing. I typically go hiking several times a week and don’t repeat many parks all that often, and I have a thick folder full of used park maps, and there are still many I haven’t yet been to. Also, I stare at Google Maps a lot looking for green areas to explore, and yet, nearly every week I talk to someone who mentions some park I’ve never even heard of. It’s really pretty incredible. I LOVE it.

Last, but not least, is friends. I don’t have that many here, but some of my very old friends are coming to me. 🙂 Our good friends Brad and April moved to the Bay Area a few months after we did, which was SO GREAT. And at long, long last, Fortinbras has FINALLY made it back to California. He moved to LA just a couple of weeks ago. I wish he was closer, but LA is way better than Baltimore, and we are driving distance from each other, if not pop-by-on-a-whim close. He drove up here the week before last, which was the first time I’d seen him since I left Virginia in July. He’s actually the reason for my first recipe today because he bought a bunch of zucchini and yellow squash while he was here and we didn’t eat all of it, so a few were languishing in my fridge and needed to be used up. I’ll typically just lightly saute zucchini and top with a flavored salt, but though he’ll eat that, Mark tends to take only a few slices and I’m always harping on him about eating more nutrients, so last night I had a little more time for dinner preparations than I usually have and I tried to think of something different to do with the zucchini and squash that might appeal to Mark. I decided to make a gratin.

I’ve made gratins in the past, often relying on the gruyere recipe in Artisan Vegan Cheese, but I’ll be honest with you: I haven’t made fermented cheese since I moved. I keep wanting to and not finding the time. What I have been making a lot of, though, is various cheese recipes by Lacey at Avocado and Ales. Lacey left me a lovely comment on my last post so I checked out her blog and found she’s pretty amazing. (Lacey, if you are reading this, I tried to leave you a comment telling you that but I had issues doing so and I don’t know if you ever saw it.) So when I googled around for gruyere ideas and found a recipe (that I think was adapted from the original vegan cheese bible, The Uncheese Cookbook, which you would THINK a vegan of as many years as me would own but I for some reason do not), I took a tip from Lacey and replaced the acid with vegan lactic acid powder. I don’t think I’ve ever actually had real gruyere cheese if you want the truth, but I thought the resulting sauce was pretty tasty. Also, she didn’t write this particular recipe, but you should really check out Lacey’s recipes – I’ve quit buying Daiya mozzarella and just make her mozzarella, which I prefer, on pizza, and her vegan cheddar sauce is really great.

Anyway, on with the recipe:

Zucchini Gratin
Cheese sauce adapted from a recipe in the comments on this page, with inspiration from Lacey at Avocado and Ales

4 small or 3 large zucchini and/or yellow squash, evenly sliced
1 small yellow onion, sliced into half-moons
1 recipe vegan gruyere sauce (recipe follows)
1 cup bread crumbs
vegan parmesan, optional

Vegan Gruyere Sauce:
1 cup water
2 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp flour
4 tsp arrowroot
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp vegan lactic acid
1/4 tsp salt

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. If you don’t have pre-made bread crumbs, make some first so you can work with a dry blender or food processor: toast about 3 slices of white or whole wheat bread until they are quite dry, then roughly crumble into a dry blender or food processor. If you’d like, add some seasonings: I added a little vegan chicken broth powder, salt, and dried parsley. Process until you are left with small crumbs and set aside. Next make the gruyere sauce by placing all ingredients in a blender or food processor and processing until smooth. Pour into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring until sauce is smooth and thickened. Set aside. Slice the zucchini or squash and the onion, then heat a little oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, then add the zucchini and squash until they are lightly cooked. Pour the gruyere sauce into pan and mix everything up, then pour the mixture into a medium baking dish.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top.

If using, top with vegan parmesan. I just happened to have seen Follow Your Heart’s shaved parmesan for the first time the other day and bought it out of curiosity, so I used that, but I don’t generally buy or make vegan parm and if I hadn’t had it, I would likely have generously sprinkled Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese, which I always have on hand and use for all my powdered or sprinkly cheese needs, on top.

Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

BAD, CURIOUS CATS!

They are so cute and SO annoying when I’m cooking.

Mark’s thoughts on the gratin? He liked it a lot. He declared himself a “foodie”, closed his eyes and said he tasted hints of “berry”. I said that was absurd, to which he commanded, “Silence! Do not contradict the foodie!” In a slightly less silly assessment, he said it was both creamy and crunchy and he enjoyed that dichotomy. He also ate all of what was on his plate and didn’t make a single complaint about the fact it was squash, which he ordinarily has very mixed feelings about. Success!

Mark suggested that I also post the recipe for the seitan I served, which I agreed to do because it gives me a chance to talk about my brand new Instant Pot, which I’m excited about. I’m a little late to the Instant Pot game, which is surprising because I love kitchen gadgets, but with my move last year to California, I spent the first half of 2015 purging as many material items as I could from my life and not buying anything. And the second half of 2015 found me needing to be extremely frugal because CALIFORNIA IS EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE. I’ve had my eye on an Instant Pot for a while, though, because although I managed to cram all my appliances into a kitchen that is much smaller than my previous one, several of them, such as my dough mixer and slow cooker, were inconvenient to use, and I had dreams of replacing the slow cooker and rice cooker with the Instant Pot to free up some space and make all of the appliances easier to reach and use. And then my stovetop pressure cooker stopped working properly – it would maintain pressure, but release a lot of steam while doing so. Now, I won’t lie to you: I probably just needed to replace the gasket, which would have been the cheapest solution, but I instead decided to take that as a sign it was time to indulge in the Instant Pot. And I’m really glad I did because I know it’s going to get a lot of use and now my dough mixer is going to be a lot easier to use from its new location on the counter. I had started getting back into baking a little bit when we first moved and I had some time (before I was able to start volunteering again), but I’d gotten pretty lazy about it partially because the mixer was just inconvenient to use. And another thing I’d been lazy about was buying and stashing a bunch of Gardein products in the freezer, which is NOT a frugal move. I should have been making my own seitan more regularly, but my preferred method for that was steam-then-bake and my slow cooker/steamer was also inconvenient to get to so I tended not to do it. Then I thought about returning to my previous favorite method of seitan making, which was pressure cooking, but my pressure cooker was getting on my nerves. ENTER THE INSTANT POT, in which I can steam OR pressure cook the seitan – though I’ll tell you now I’m pretty much always going to pressure cook it.

For pressure cooking, the Instant Pot is far superior to a stovetop pressure cooker, because you can set the timer and just walk away – in fact, I could leave the house if I wanted to. (And the weather in California is generally so glorious I USUALLY want to leave the house.) PLUS there is none of the really annoying “run cold water over the pressure cooker to bring the pressure down” nonsense I was always doing with the stovetop cooker. I’m not yet sure about making rice; I doubt it’s going to be easier or better than my high-end fuzzy logic rice cooker, whose place its taken on the counter, but I also didn’t get rid of the rice cooker and I intend to bring it out of the cupboard when I want to cook something in the Instant Pot AND have rice, which I think might be rather often.

Basically, though, I convinced myself I’m going to save tons of money on bread and fake meat by investing in the Instant Pot. Hopefully that’s true. I’ve already baked a couple loaves of bread – the bread crumbs in the recipe above? Made from homemade bread. I will also hopefully use the slow cooker feature much more often than I was slow cooking before because I am very often not home during dinner-making hours, usually coming home starving and throwing something sub-par together as fast as I can.

So that’s my Instant Pot story. If you have favorite Instant Pot tips and recipes, please share!

As for the seitan recipe, generally when I want to make seitan of any type, I’ll google Vegan Dad’s lunch meat recipe to get the basic ratios of beans/liquid/vital wheat gluten (though you’d think I’d have it memorized by now), then I season it however I’m in the mood for. Previously I would steam and bake as Vegan Dad instructs, but now that I again have a reliable pressure cooker, I’ll be doing that as it takes half the time and is in my opinion easier. Something that I’ve been doing for a long time is cooking large batches of dried beans and freezing them in 1-cup portions to be used for seitan down the road. I’ll be able to either slow cook or pressure cook these beans in the Instant Pot from now on.

Enough blather, here’s the actual recipe:

Lemon-Basil Seitan
Seitan adapted from Vegan Dad’s lunch meat; sauce lightly adapted from Epicurious

For the seitan:
2 cups water
1 cup cooked or canned beans (I usually use some sort of white beans but used canned Lebanese fava beans this time)
1/4 cup neutral oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp vegan chicken broth powder
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
2 3/4 cup vital wheat gluten

For the sauce:
1 cup vegan chicken broth
zest and juice of one lemon
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup (lightly packed) basil, chiffonaded

To make the seitan, add all ingredients except the vital wheat gluten to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Measure the vital wheat gluten into a large bowl, then pour in the liquid and stir with a wooden spoon, or just mix with your hands. Lightly knead until entirely mixed. Form the mixture into a log shape. Take a large piece of clean cheesecloth or muslin and roll the seitan up like a tootsie roll, tying the ends with kitchen string. Place in a pressure cooker and cover with water or vegan broth. (I used plain water but salted it generously.) After bringing up to pressure, cook for 50 minutes to one hour then release the pressure naturally. (I kept my Instant Pot in “Keep Warm” for 10 or 12 minutes, then moved the valve to “Venting” to release the remaining pressure.) After removing it from the pot, you can unwrap the seitan at this point, but let it completely cool before slicing or using. In fact, the seitan is best used the next day after firming in the refrigerator overnight, though you can use it as soon as it is cool.

For the Lemon-Basil sauce, slice as many pieces of seitan as you want and pan fry them in a pan large enough to accommodate them, then remove from the pan. In the same pan, pour a little olive oil, add the garlic, and stir a couple of times, then pour in the broth and lemon juice and zest. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until reduced to one half or one third of original volume. Add the basil and stir, then return the cooked seitan to the pan, coat with the sauce, and re-warm. Serve. I served mine with the gratin above and rice made with vegan chicken broth in the Instant Pot.

Boy, is this picture bad:

So there you have two recipes and an update on my life. If you are interested in seeing some GOOD photos, again, I refer you to renae.org, where you can also find my photo blog. I have a lot of super-exciting photos like this one:

and this one:

there. That’s all for now – I’ll try not to be a stranger. Leave me Instant Pot recipes. 🙂

Comments (9)

Spicy Bolita Bean Soup

Mark has been working in San Francisco and I’ve been having to eat dinner alone most nights. My Photo365 portrait project photo from the other night was this demonstration of what that’s like:

It’s a staged photo, which the discerning viewer can determine based on the fact that I didn’t bother pouring a glass of wine and I always have wine with dinner. But, with the addition of a glass of wine, that’s pretty much what it looks like. Perhaps I shouldn’t say I eat dinner alone, as I generally have company of a feline nature, but they aren’t a great substitute for Mark, who very rarely parades back and forth between my plate and my face while I’m trying to eat.

I do have a recipe for you though! I made this soup last week and it was good. It also required very minimal effort and the leftovers provided a very warming lunch for several days. I have a rather large collection of dry beans that I store and display in vintage mason jars, so sometimes inspiration for dinner comes in the form of staring at dozens of blue jars and picking one at random. I used bolita beans in this soup and they were quite good. Pinto beans are a common substitute for bolita beans, and I love pinto beans, but I think kidney beans would also have been excellent here. I also think next time I will experiment with using bulgur instead of the soyrizo, to get rid of the packaged food, and adjusting the spices accordingly.

Very prepared people will soak their beans – at least using the “quick soak” method – before cooking them, however, I am not always very prepared. I pressure cooked my beans for 23 minutes without soaking and they came out perfect. Sometimes if you don’t soak them before cooking, beans will end up kind of wrinkly, but these looked nice.

Spicy Bolita Bean Soup

1 small to medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 links soyrizo, crumbled or grated
1 cup bolita beans, cooked (or canned)
1-2 chiles en adobo, minced + some of the sauce, to taste
2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
6 cups veggie broth (I used vegan “chicken” broth)
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 cup frozen corn (fresh would be good too)
splash of apple cider vinegar
salt to taste

Heat some oil in a soup pot and saute the onions, celery, and carrot until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and saute another couple of minutes. Add the crumbled soyrizo and cook another few minutes, then add the beans, chiles en adobo, tomato paste, broth, cumin, and oregano. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, then add the corn and simmer another 5 minutes. Splash some vinegar in to brighten it up a bit and, if necessary, add salt to taste. Serve with lime wedges.

So, yeah, about that photo project: I can’t believe I’m still keeping up with it! I never thought I’d be able to take this many pictures of myself, especially since I really hate the way I look in photos. But it’s been a very useful project: I’ve gotten better at editing in Lightroom, I’m forced to use my camera every day, and it’s actually kind of neat having a daily record of my life. I’ve been captioning the pictures with a small description of how the photo fit into my day. I’ve taken my share of quickie pictures standing in front of my bookshelf or in the back yard, just to get an entry out of the way for the day, but sometimes I stage goofy illustrations of my life like the one above. I use the cats as props WAY less often than I assumed I would, but of course they do make appearances…

Yesterday, the Mez and me.

Last week; on the way home from work that day I was thinking that I was drawing a total blank on ideas for that day’s portrait, then when Torticia pounced me as I walked in the door, I realized that was my picture. She stayed perched there the whole time I adjusted the tripod and set up the camera.

I do struggle for self-portrait ideas, especially when I can’t get outside, but the project has given me something to do that sort of keeps me from getting depressed about winter. Although time seems to fly on one hand and I can’t believe it’s the middle of February already, on the other hand, I’m just so tired of short, cold days. You know those bumper stickers that say, “I’d rather be fishing” or something like that? I was walking through my office today and I just suddenly wanted to slap a sticker on my forehead that said, “I’d rather be hiking”. I was just really annoyed I wasn’t on a trail somewhere. I really think I’ve become addicted to going to parks; I get all out of sorts if I can’t get out for at least a short hike AT LEAST once a week.

Between missing Mark and not getting to a park last weekend, I’m not in the best of spirits today. I can’t wait for the days to be long enough that I can hit a trail after work! The good news is we are getting there; the days are getting noticeably longer. I sometimes wake up before sunrise and hit a park before I go to work, which is a lovely way to start the day if I can rouse myself. And we’ve had a few unseasonably warm days here and there; if I can, I’ll sometimes go into work super-early on days I know are going to be extra lovely, and I’ll skip out early. One afternoon last week I went to the wildlife refuge and saw some eagles. This one is guarding his or her nest from a few hundred feet away. I didn’t see his or her mate, although often you’ll see them sitting side by side watching their nest. Rumor has it there are two eggs in the nest, so I’m trying to make it my business to get to the refuge as often as I can to stalk the parents before the US Fish & Wildlife closes a portion of the trail down again to protect the nest from people like me.

After helping raccoons and raptors on the weekends, I almost always hit up a park unless the weather is really bad. The other weekend I went to one of my favorite parks, Great Falls. I raged a little bit about the proposed price hike from $5 to the completely absurd $15 (seriously, WTF, NPS???) and then I bought an America the Beautiful pass which gets me entry to all national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges in the country for a year. Considering how frequently I visit national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges it doesn’t make sense for me NOT to have one. So I’ll be going to Great Falls frequently while I still live in Virginia even if they do triple the entrance fee.

If you don’t have an annual pass and the entrance fee at Great Falls enrages you, just go to Riverbend Regional Park, which is free, and hike into Great Falls on the Potomac Heritage Trail. It’s barely over a mile from visitor center to visitor center and it’s a lovely walk. Take your binoculars or super-telephoto lens because you can see the Conn Island eagle nest on the way. (This photo is unrelated to the Conn Island eagle nest, although I COULD dig up some photos of it if I were feeling ambitious.)

The eponymous great falls:

So that’s my update for now, and some soup. Coming soon: my long-awaited post on safari life for vegans and photographers.

Comments (5)

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)

“Pork” seitan

One of my go-to seitan recipes is Vegan Dad’s Veggie Lunch Meat. (All of Vegan Dad’s seitan recipes are good: and even Mark can make them!!). Anyway, although I refer to Vegan Dad’s lunch meat recipe for the basic bean/vital wheat gluten/liquid ratio, I often mix up the seasonings a bit to get different flavors. Follows is a porcine take on it, with all due credit to Vegan Dad (who I am so glad is blogging again!).

“Pork”-flavored Seitan
Lightly adapted from Vegan Dad’s Veggie Lunch Meat

1 cup cooked (or canned) white beans
2 cups water
3 Tbsp beet juice (OPTIONAL)
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 or 2 packets Goya “ham” flavoring (there is no ham in it)
2 3/4 cup vital wheat gluten (plus maybe a couple teaspoons more if you add the beet juice)

So the first thing you need to procure is some cooked white beans. Since I make this seitan often (Mark scarfs it down so fast I can barely keep it in stock!), what I do is pressure cook a whole pound of soaked, dried white beans (like Great Northern), then divide it into 1-cup portions, reserving one for immediate use and freezing the others. These containers are the perfect size for freezing individual portions:

Then the next few times I want to make seitan, I just grab one portion from the freezer, either thawing in the fridge or on the counter for a few hours if I have time, or sitting the container in very hot water to thaw and warming slightly in the microwave if necessary. Yes, I was canning at the same time I was making this seitan and had a lot of help from a certain Torticia, and yes there will be more cat pictures at the end of this post (about time, eh?).

Put all of the ingredients except the vital wheat gluten into the jar of a blender. For the beet juice, I pour in a little juice from the jar of pickled beets that I always have open in the fridge. I do it to add a pink color, which looks lovely while the gluten is raw but almost entirely disappears when it’s cooked, therefore there’s really little point in doing it, but I’d just be pouring that pickle juice down the drain eventually anyway and it at least provides a little extra zing to the final seitan. But totally don’t go out of your way to use it if you don’t have it handy.

Blend until smooth.

Combine the blended mixture and the vital wheat gluten in a large bowl.

Stir with a spoon until you can’t …

… then mix with your hands until all of the vital wheat gluten is incorporated. Then knead for a few minutes until you can see the gluten start to form (this will look like “strings” forming within the dough ball) – you don’t need to work it hard like you would bread dough but just enough to give it some structure.

Rip off a big ole piece of aluminum foil (you can re-use this several times and I encourage you to do so) and place your seitan at one end of it. Form it into a thick log as shown.

Roll the foil around the seitan log and then fold the two sides up as you would wrap a package (or twist them like a Tootsie Roll – I prefer folding it as it’s easier to prevent tearing the foil when you open the package later, but know that the seitan will expand while cooking, so if you fold, make sure you do so tightly enough that it stays folded).

Steam the seitan for one hour. You can do this on the stovetop, but I love my slow/multi-cooker for this task (and many others). Obviously, I put the lid on after taking this picture.

Once it’s done steaming, cook the seitan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for another hour. I often use the toaster oven for this.

Let cool completely at room temperature, then refrigerate or freeze. It’s best used after a rest of at least a few hours in the fridge, so this is something I like to prepare at least a day in advance.

You can slice it thinly as lunch meat for sandwiches as Vegan Dad suggests, or use it in any recipe calling for seitan or meat. (Put it in a food processor for perfect minced “meat”.) Here I’ve cut thick slabs to bake up in some barbecue sauce.

Seitan slathered in barbecue sauce is just about my favorite thing. I put a few slabs in a baking dish …

… then top with homemade barbecue sauce. And here I have scattered some pickled grapes on top because I pickled grapes last night because apparently pickling grapes is something that I do these days. I pickled grapes TWO WAYS last night. (By the way, pickled grapes are awesome.)

Mark had already stolen about a quarter of this loaf before I made dinner tonight, so after popping my barbecue dish into the oven, I chopped the remainder of the seitan loaf into two pieces about 8-10 ounces each and stored them in the freezer, each chunk of which will provide a good amount for a later meal.

And here is what I had for dinner tonight: barbecued seitan, scalloped potatoes, and peas:

I promised you cat pictures. It’s been a while! So, the cats, and especially Torticia, are ALWAYS helping me cook. Torticia is the most loyal little buddy in the world; if I’m in the kitchen, she parks herself on the island and watches over me, EXACTLY as Tigger used to do. (I always said that would be what I missed most about Tigger so I find it extremely comforting.) If there’s a box on the island SO MUCH THE BETTER. She sat in the box of peaches I canned last week for several days. It rained hard here all day Saturday – the first weekend day it’s rained all summer, and frankly, I NEEDED that rain to keep me in the house and get some canning done. So I was canning several different things Saturday and making the seitan, and this is what was happening on the island the whole time:

You can see my seitan baking in the background of this one:

If those pictures seem a little skewed towards my beautiful Torticia, know that I have a picture of Gomez on my credit card and on the skin I created for my Macbook Air to obscure the fact that I’ve become a Mac user. Okay, I’m not fooling anyone, but HOW PRETTY DOES MEZZIE MAKE MY LAPTOP LOOK?? He’s so ridiculously handsome.

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British Pickled Onions

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I love pickles of all sorts. My favorite food right now is British-style pickled onions, which were inspired by the pints of mixed pearl onions my favorite farmers market farmer offers:

The pickles feature one of my favorite vinegars (well, I pretty much love all vinegars): malt vinegar.

I pretty much followed this recipe, although I was not very precise when measuring. These are excellent; the only problem is waiting a month to eat them!

British Pickled Onions

3 pints pearl onions
1/4 cup salt
2 cups malt vinegar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp whole allspice (for my first batch, I only had ground allspice, which worked fine)
large pinch red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf

Peel the onions. To do this, I first trim both the top and bottom, though you could just trim the root off. Place the onions in a pot of water, bring it to a boil, and let boil for 2 minutes, then drain them. They will slip right out of their peels.

Dissolve the salt into enough water to cover the peeled onions, in a bowl large enough to hold them. Add the onions and cover with a plate that fits into the bowl in order to keep them submerged. Let sit for 2 days.

Meanwhile, bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Drain the onions and place them in a sterilized jar. Mine fit in a quart canning jar. Pour the cooled vinegar mixture over them. Refrigerate for one month.

Sooooo good!

The small jar above contains the onions I’m eating now. The jar below has another two weeks to cure.

Also in my refrigerator are some balsamic pickled onions, but I’m only 5 weeks into the 8 week waiting time for these. Look how dark they are!

Mmmm!

And now for some outtakes from the above photo session:

They’re so nosy! I was thinking that I still don’t have any interesting pictures to show you, but it’s chilly here today and so when I settled into my chair to process the onion pictures and compose this post, I grabbed a blanket. Within 10 seconds of spreading the blanket on my lap, this happened:

I had to use my cell phone for the pictures and they are inexplicably terrible, but yes, I am attempting to write this post on my laptop while two cats are hogging my lap. Of course I love it.

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Chestnut-stuffed Peppers; Cucumber & Radish Salad

My favorite farmers at the market now have chestnuts. I’ve bought fresh chestnuts before and I recall them being a huge pain, although curiously I don’t recall much else about them. Nonetheless I was of course compelled to purchase a pint of them.

They’re still a huge pain.

I wanted to do something savory with them so I got the idea to use them in stuffed peppers. Here’s what I did.

Chestnut-stuffed Peppers

1/2 pint fresh chestnuts
1/4 large onion or 1/2 smaller onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp red wine
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1 cup vegan broth
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
salt
2 long sweet peppers
vegan cheese (optional), for topping

Here are my chestnuts. I peeled the whole pint but only used half of them in this recipe. I’ll roast the other half later.

Cut an “x” in each chestnut. I used a paring knife and had to be a bit stabby with it. It’s probably very easy to cut yourself when preparing chestnuts. It requires a bit more effort than doing the same thing to tomatoes you want to peel.

Put the chestnuts in some water, then bring it to a boil.

Boil the chestnuts for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat off but leave them in the pot. They are easier to peel when they are warm, so scoop out a few at a time and leave the rest in the water as you peel them. The shells will likely have started to open at your “x”.

Use your fingers and/or paring knife to remove the shell. The skin almost always comes off in the shell; sometimes you’ll have to rub it off. This one looks disconcertingly like a chocolate candy to me.

I’ll be honest, peeling chestnuts is a real bore and took forever.

At long last, they were done.

Roughly chop them.

Put some oil in a small skillet and add the diced onion. Cook for a minute or two, then add the garlic.

Add the chestnuts and cook another few minutes.

Add the wine, using it to deglaze the pan …

… then add the sage, broth, and salt to taste.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, and simmer until the chestnuts are soft. I left mine for 40 minutes while I went to exercise. Stir in the rice.

Pretty peppers.

Cut them in half lengthwise.

Remove the seeds.

Stuff 1/4 of the mixture into each half.

Optionally top with vegan cheese. I used a small bit of Daiya mozzarella and a generous sprinkle of Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix.

Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. I used my toaster oven, which worked great. Here it is finished. This was okay, but I wouldn’t say it was worth the effort of the chestnut peeling.

Cucumber and Radish Salad

2 pickling cucumbers, or 1 regular cucumber
3-4 large radishes
1/4 large or 1/2 smaller onion
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
3 springs dill, chopped (or just pull the fronds off)

Thinly slice the cucumbers and radishes; a mandoline is preferred for this task. Also very thinly slice the onion.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.

Toss everything together. Preferably put it in a bowl with a sealing lid. Refrigerate for at least an hour, occasionally shaking and/or flipping the bowl over if it has a sealable lid.

And here it is finished. I make variations of this frequently during the summer so there was no surprise here. It was a good choice to accompany this meal because chestnuts are a bit sweet, and I also served sweet corn on the cob, and this was a tangy, refreshing contrast.

In kitty news, Gomez and Torticia recently went in for their annual exams. I love taking them to the vet because they are not Tigger. Tigger hated hated HATED the vet. There are some vet techs out there who actually refused to be in the same room as him, and he left more than one doctor bruised and bloodied in his wake. In fact, it was generally a bloodbath and I’d have to walk out in shame. He was a TERROR. These two little sweet darlings, on the other hand, are SO GOOD! They react quite differently from each other, however. Torticia looks at the whole experience as one fun adventure and makes herself right at home, whereas Gomez rather quivers in fear the whole time.

Torticia at the vet:

Gomez at the vet:

Torticia at the vet:

Gomez at the vet (look at that scowl!):

I’ve zoomed in and enhanced this photo so you can see Torticia’s extremely cute “vanilla” toe. LOVE that the vanilla toe has a pink paw pad and the chocolate toes have brown pads!

Silly cats. Anyway, everyone oohed and aahed over their beauty, sweetness, and marvelously soft and silky coats. I love that no one who sees them can resist petting them. They are in optimal health, although little miss Fatso needs to shed some pounds. Gomez forgot his ordeal within two seconds of returning home. (Torticia, world’s most agreeable cat, couldn’t have cared less if I’d packed her back up and driven her back there a second time.)

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Summertime Black Beans with Quinoa

Last night’s meal was a celebration of summer! It was also a celebration of preparedness. I worked late, got irritated with what I was doing at work, got a headache (which I first blamed on my work but later realized I forgot to take my headache medicine in the morning; damn, I keep hoping I’ll be able to go off that stuff), and was annoyed. I also wanted something simple for dinner like a salad, and I had a ton of fresh vegetables at home (I don’t know how I live without the farmers market during the off-season), but I knew there was no lettuce in the house and didn’t feel like stopping at the store just for that, mostly because of the working late and headache. But then I remembered that the night before I had cooked Future Renae up a mess of black beans! Suddenly my attitude brightened! I drove home and in little time was serving this:

Summertime Black Beans and Quinoa

1 cup quinoa (I used multi-colored)
2 cups vegan broth or water
1 ear of corn, shucked and kernels removed
2 spring onions, chopped (thinly slice some of the green parts and reserve separately)
2 or 3 garlic scapes chopped (or a couple of cloves of garlic)
1 small summer squash, chopped (I used patty pan)
1 jalapeno, minced
1 or 2 tomatoes, depending on size, chopped
a little bit of vegan broth
3 cups cooked black beans
salt, to taste
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
lemon or lime wedges

Rinse the quinoa. Put some oil in a medium pot, then saute the quinoa for a few minutes until lightly toasted. Add the 2 cups of broth (or water) in a medium pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Cook the corn kernels in a small amount of water for a few minutes until soft, then drain. If you have super-fresh corn, you might be able to skip this step. I had really good corn and probably didn’t need to pre-cook it.

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, and add the garlic scapes (or garlic) and green onions. After a minute or two, add the summer squash and jalapeno. Saute for about 5 minutes then add the tomatoes. Saute another few minutes, then add the black beans and corn. Cook until beans are warmed through. Add a little broth to keep things from getting too dry – I threw in 3 ice cubes of homemade veggie stock and let them melt. Season with salt to taste; I sprinkled it with a bit of a finishing salt.

Serve with the avocado, garnishing with lemon or lime wedges to be squeezed generously over the beans. Also top with the reserved green onions (which I totally forgot to do for the picture).

I thought I’d spice things up by flipping my placemat over and photographing the “cheerful” (or, according to Mark, “hideous”) side. This is me attempting to put effort into my food photography. So sad.

It wreaked havoc with my white balance, even though I manually calculated it with a gray card. Maybe the same old black is better after all? I haven’t changed the light in my dining room, not that my food photos ever looked great, but the last few I’ve taken have looked horribly unappetizing. Trust me, this looked much nicer in person.

This also made a very nice, refreshing lunch today.

And now, a chipmunk.

My mother thinks he has a cocaine problem. Nope, just sunflower seeds!

You know who you guys haven’t seen in a while? Torticia …

… and Gomez!

This is a game we play with Mezzie. He is obsessed with pipe cleaners, so Mark sticks them around the house in increasingly difficult places for Mez to get to. Hanging them from the ceiling fan pull is entertaining in that Mez will make these amazing straight leaps to get them down, but also kinda stupid because every time he does, he changes the speed on the fan. So it’s been a million degrees and Gomez keeps turning the ceiling fan off. But we keep doing it. 🙂

(PS, guess what? It’s only 88 degrees here today! NOT 110! It’s…wonderful.)

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Stuffed Butternut Squash

Wow, it actually feels a bit foreign to be writing this post. That means it’s been too long! I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks because I don’t like to make posts just to make them and I haven’t made anything worth talking about. But maybe I should start ensuring I make something post-worthy at least once a week. Here is what I made for dinner last night. It wasn’t perfect, but I suppose it’s worth a post.

Stuffed Butternut Squash

1 butternut squash
1 small onion or 1/2 medium to large onion, minced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 link vegan sausage
1 cup mixed long grain/wild rice, uncooked

Slice the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, place the halves face down on a pan, and place in a 400-degree oven. Cook until soft, about 30-40 minutes. I did this in my toaster oven which just perfectly fits two butternut squash halves.

Meanwhile, cook the rice according to package instructions.

Saute the onion, celery, and “sausage” in some olive oil until lightly browned.

Here are my cooked squash halves. The one is scored where I was testing it for done-ness.

Scoop out the insides, leaving a bit remaining.

Chop up the insides.

Combine the rice and the squash insides with the sausage mixture.

Stuff the mixture into each of the squash halves, packing it down.

If desired, sprinkle with some vegan cheese.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes.

This was tasty, but it really needed a binder. It felt like it was sticking together fairly well before I cooked it, but baking it dried it out and the filling got crumbly. So next time I’ll use an egg replacer or bread crumbs, or maybe mix in that cheese instead of sprinkling on top. And also maybe cover the squash up with foil.

And now, who’s a handsome cat???

The big news in these parts is Mark gave me my Valentine’s Day present early and IT’S A 2-WEEK TRIP TO FRANCE AND AMSTERDAM!!! We’re going in May. I’m so excited! We went to Amsterdam for a few days on our honeymoon …

… but we’ve never been to France. Suggestions of things to see, do, and/or eat in either place are very welcome! Also accepting suggestions of novels that take place in France and/or Amsterdam that I can read in the meantime.

I’ve heard Paris isn’t very vegan-friendly, so I’m sure Marseille will be even less so (we’re going to both cities). Fortunately we love bread and many breads, including the ubiquitous baguette, are vegan. Also, the French tutor I hired to help me remember my five years of high school and college French just happens to be a vegetarian and she totally knew what a vegan was, so hopefully I’ll be all set in the food-rejecting department. PAS DE BOEUF! PAS D’OEUF!

I’m also heading to LA in early March and the mountains with Mark’s family this summer…a lot of travel this year! Just the way I like it!

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Tofutti Ricotta – review + recipe

Today I was definitively diagnosed as suffering from (daily, yay) migraines. I’m not telling you to solicit pity or anything, just to explain tonight’s dinner (although it also sort of explains why I’ve been quiet lately). I met with my doctor this afternoon to go over the results of my MRI, which was composed of images like this:

…which because I LOVE neuroscience, I found fascinating, but which are also creepy because those are MY eyeballs on stalks. However, we also now know that is my very normal brain, which is a good thing.

Is showing you pictures of my brain too intimate? I think it may be, although people are always showing off their sonograms and frankly I find this much more interesting to look at. Sorry, though. Try not to think of Large Marge every time you see me.

Moving on, having ruled out anything terrifying (other than the eyeballs on stalks) like brain tumors, migraines it is. This is bad because migraines are annoying, but it is GOOD to have an explanation for this annoyance, and GOOD to have medicine, which I can start tomorrow. I was resistant earlier to the idea of taking medicine, but after this past week, I’m ready for it.

So I stopped by Wegmans on my way home this afternoon to pick up what I hope is my miracle cure. While waiting for the prescription to be filled, I wandered the aisles, and guess what I found?? Tofutti Better Than Ricotta Cheese! I had no idea this was a new product! As the label says, wow!

I immediately snatched it up in a flurry of excitement. For occasional use, I’m a big fan of Tofutti’s Better Than Cream Cheese and Better Than Sour Cream, so I had high hopes for the ricotta. However, I was slightly hesitant about it because honestly, although I’ve never made a spectacular homemade “cream cheese”, and Tofutti’s sour cream is more realistic than anything I’ve made as well, I’ve never had any problems making tofu “ricotta”, so I wasn’t sure I needed this product. Nonetheless, I bought it…for you! So I could do a taste test and write a review for YOU. Because I care! I’ve been trying to make extra-healthy dinners lately, but I decided that tonight I would splurge and make something easy (because I have a headache), but decadent and fun (to celebrate because I hope to not have a headache tomorrow! Or the next day!). And educational for my readers!

So the “ricotta” went home with me, for the rather outrageous price of I believe $4.39, in addition to some just-as-processed Gardein Beefless Tips, tinned tomatoes, and pasta – WHITE pasta. That’s right, I’m celebrating.

Unfortunately, I was slightly put off when I opened the ricotta.

It just didn’t look…great.

I crumbled it with my hands. It felt distressingly like cold, damp okara. If any of you have followed my depressing okara trials, you’ll know that I am no fan of okara, and let me tell you something: cold, damp okara is the WORST kind of okara. Worse, the ricotta TASTED a bit like cold, damp okara. The photo may make it look as innocuous as a bowl of crumbled tofu, but it’s actually very grainy and disturbing, whereas crumbled tofu is pleasant and fresh. Those of you who don’t make your own tofu or soy milk may be wondering what the heck okara (the ground-up remains of soybeans that is a by-product of the soymilk-making process) looks, feels, and tastes like. Suffice it to say, it’s a grainy, bland mess. Raw Tofutti ricotta tastes a little bit like what I suspect chalk would taste like if you ground it up and added water with a touch of lemon juice. Slightly tangy wet chalk, in other words.

I became alarmed at this point. My celebratory dinner suddenly seemed in danger of being GROSS. So I decided I would make TWO versions of my dinner, one with the now-frightening Tofutti ricotta and one with my own tofu “ricotta”. I didn’t want to “waste” my good “cotton” (i.e., non-silken) tofu on an experiment, so I took a box of firm silken tofu and whizzed it in a blender with a little salt, 2 or 3 tablespoons of Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix, and about 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.

While I was blending up my own “ricotta”, behind my back, Senor Gomez was not nearly as skeptical of the Tofutti stuff as I was!

Hahahahaahahaha!!! Oh man, this hilariated* me. He REALLY liked that stuff.

Anyway, so I pre-heated the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, then ground up the Beefless Tips and sauteed them with a small onion and some garlic in a skillet, deglazing with white wine.

I put 28 oz of whole tinned tomatoes into the blender, with a bunch of chopped garlic, frozen basil, and some dried oregano, red chili flakes, and salt, and processed. It’s like a circus in my kitchen at times, by the way.

I also cooked some pasta al dente and drained. I set up two small bakers and put a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of each, then topped with some of the pasta.

Then I added the “beef”.

Next up, the “ricotta”, Toffuti on the left, homemade on the right.

Closeup of the Tofutti, looking suspiciously okara-like.

I added more sauce, pasta, another layer of “ricotta”, and the rest of the sauce.

Another close-up of the Tofutti version:

I covered and baked for 45 minutes. After removing, let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Here is the dish with MY ricotta:

…and here is the Tofutti ricotta. It MELTED! THANK GOD. Soooo much more appetizing. And actually not gross!

I served myself some of each for a taste comparison. Tofutti on the left, Renae on the right.

The verdict? To my surprise, the Tofutti was okay. Baking it did WONDERS. However, it was just okay. It was not worth anywhere NEAR its $5 retail price (which is absurd). My tofu ricotta cost about $1.75 – and would have been mere pennies had I made the tofu myself – and tasted BETTER than Tofutti. It’s also better for you. To be honest, I had a pretty hard time distinguishing which lump of pasta bake was the Tofutti Ricotta and which was the Renae Ricotta on my plate during the taste test (a.k.a. dinner, which by the way I balanced with a lovely, abundant salad); they tasted and looked similar. Mark said the Tofutti was okay, but when he went back for seconds, he only got more of the Renae Ricotta, which he said was better.

In conclusion, Tofutti ricotta is a useless and extremely over-priced product. I can’t even say it’s a good convenience product because it takes only SECONDS to make a nice, fresh tofu ricotta. You don’t even need the blender: just crumble up some regular tofu with your hands and work in some salt and lemon juice, and nutritional yeast if you want. You also can’t really eat Tofutti ricotta raw, unless you are a glutton for punishment or are a cat.

Hahahahahaha.

The reason I find those pictures of Gomez so hilarious is because when I was growing up, I had the Most Awesome Cat in the World, Dracula. Dracula had THE biggest personality you’ll ever find on a cat. I even have a tattoo of him, he was so awesome. Like Gomez, Dracula was all-black. What I find really weird is I actually sometimes CALL Gomez Dracula, which seems so bizarre to me because Dracula died years and years ago and other than their species and color, they have little in common. You’d think I’d accidentally call him Tigger, but I have never done that even once. Anyway, among many, many goofy things Dracula did, if you put a paper lunch bag on the floor, he’d stick his head in it and then walk until he hit a wall. Then he’d back up, change directions, and again walk until he hit a wall. (This makes Dracula sound very stupid, but he wasn’t – he was just…unique.) Evidence:

* a perfectly cromulent word.

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Lima Bean Soup

Thanksgiving is my father’s favorite holiday. My mother does not like to cook (and my father does not cook), so I think Thanksgiving may be her least favorite holiday. But no one wants to disappoint my dad, and no restaurants are going to have anything for me and Mark, so my mother continues to make Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, everyone’s problems would be solved if I were allowed to host Thanksgiving dinner since I love to cook and I love hosting dinner parties, but that’s a rather Renae-centric perspective because I’m pretty sure my father would counter there’d be the problem of a lack of a dead turkey. ANYWAY, I’m trying to help ease the burden on my mother and aunt by bringing whatever I can. This year one of the things I offered to bring was succotash.

Now, in prior years I would never have made such an offer, because lima beans, gross! But then a couple of years ago I found fresh lima beans at the farmers market and learned I do like lima beans. In fact, not too long ago, I made succotash – the single part of Thanksgiving I despised as a child – and loved it. So I said I could make succotash this year, IF I could use dried baby limas instead of the nasty frozen ones. But I’ve never made it from dried beans before, so today as a trial I soaked and cooked some of those dried baby limas, mixed a few with some corn and Earth Balance, and tried to decide if I thought there was a chance my family would eat it. It tasted fine, but I haven’t yet admitted to Mom that dried limas are white, not green like the frozen ones, so not only is it an extremely boring looking dish, it may be too different-looking to pass muster with my father. I’m thinking about adding some chopped scallions for Thanksgiving, though, to give it color.

That’s a very long way of telling you that today I had a mess of cooked baby limas and nothing to do with them. Actually, they’d have been fine just waiting for Thursday so I guess I didn’t have to do anything with them. But I like cooking a whole bunch of things at once for holidays, so I’d just as soon cook another batch of limas on Wednesday. (Is that weird?) Today’s limas went in…well, if you’ve been reading long enough, you know. Soup. If I don’t know what to do with something, it’s soup. Soup, soup, lovely soup. Oh 8-year old Renae, how I love to confound you with my lima bean creations.

Lima Bean Soup

8 oz dried baby lima beans
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped (I included some leaves, too)
3 medium carrots, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 oz white wine
14.5 oz tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried thyme
4 cups vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Note: I cooked my lima beans separately from the soup because I was trying them in a different dish as well. You could also simply cook the limas in the soup, adding 30-60 minutes to the soup cooking time as needed.

Soak the lima beans overnight in cold water, or pour boiling water over them and “quick soak” for an hour or two. Drain, then cook in fresh water to cover until done. I think it took about 45 minutes for mine; maybe not even that.

Chop all the vegetables, then heat some oil in a Dutch oven and add the onions, celery, and carrot. Cook until soft, then add the garlic and cook another minute or two. Deglaze the pot with the wine. Add the chopped tomatoes and thyme and cook for another minute or two, then add the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then add the limas.

Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. This is particularly good with a nice crusty bread and salad.

In cat news, Gomez gave us a scare last night when he didn’t appear for cat dinner. Mark searched the house while I went outside in the cold desperately calling his name. Eventually I went back inside in full panic mode and started randomly opening closet doors I knew Mark had already searched. I was talking to Mark and absentmindedly opened a dresser drawer…and out sprung Gomez like a jack-in-the-box! Which was both astonishing and a tremendous relief, although I’d like to know why he didn’t ANSWER US when we called him. Apparently he just sat in there in oblivion for 45 minutes. Well, other than the psychic “meow” he sent me. I had thought I heard a faint meow just before getting up to get their dinner, and I said to Mark, “Gomez is trapped somewhere!”, in fact, that’s why I got up to get their dinner. But Mark hadn’t heard it and didn’t think anything of it until Mez didn’t appear for his food. If Gomez HAD meowed from the dresser, I couldn’t possibly have heard him in the room I was in, so I guess my brain was just sending me a signal he was in trouble. It was weird. Here are some pictures of Gomez NOT trying to give me a heart attack.

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