Butternut Squash Mac & Gruyere; Quick Pickled Carrots

I don’t really like doing this, but my first recipe tonight is going to call for another recipe from a cookbook, which I’m not going to publish. However, I know a lot of you have Artisan Vegan Cheese (which I am loving), and if you don’t, you can just substitute some other cashew-based, creamy “cheese”. This dish was inspired by a couple of butternut squashes I got before the farmers market closed for the season…and the soft “gruyere” from Artisan Vegan Cheese I had to find a use for.

Butternut Squash Mac & Gruyere

10 oz pasta shaped appropriately for macaroni & cheese
1 small butternut squash
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup vegan broth
1/2 cup soft gruyere from Artisan Vegan Cheese, or some other creamy cashew-based “cheese”

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook the pasta to al dente, drain, and set aside.

Peel and chop the squash into bite-sized pieces. To peel the squash, chop off a little off both ends, stand it up bulbous side down, and carefully slice in half lengthwise. Remove and reserve the seeds. Use a sharp vegetable peeler to peel the squash. Slice it, then cut into cubes. Toss the pieces with a little olive oil and roast until soft, about half an hour. Remove from oven and set aside. TIP: put the seeds on a small pan, lightly salt them, and roast them as well for about 5-10 minutes, until lightly browned and crunchy. Let cool and eat them up, or reserve for garnishing the mac & gruyere.

Heat the oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour, nutritional yeast, onion and garlic powders, salt, and nutmeg. Cook for a minute or two, then whisk in the broth. Continue whisking as it thickens, then stir in the “gruyere” or other cashew cheese. Stir until well-mixed and thick.

Combine the squash and pasta in a baking dish, then stir in the cheese mixture. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes.

If desired, sprinkle with the roasted squash seeds. Alternatively, you could top the casserole with bread crumbs before baking. This was creamy and yummy and pairs well with greens and anything that’s smothered in barbecue sauce.

Now, a bonus recipe since I kind of cheated you in that one, although I’ve just stolen this one from David Lebovitz, who got it from Epicurious.

Quick Pickled Carrots

1 lb baby carrots (or regular carrots, peeled and cut into sticks)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1 1/2 Tbsp coarse salt
1 1/2 tsp dill seeds
2 bay leaves

Bring a pot of water to boiling and blanch the carrots by cooking them for one minute, then draining and running cold water over them. Place all of the remaining ingredients into a sauce pot and bring them to a boil, then simmer for a couple of minutes. Place the carrots in a quart canning jar and pour the liquid over them. Let them cool to room temperature, then put a lid on them and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating. (If you don’t have a canning jar, cool the carrots in the liquid in the pot before transferring to another container.)

It’s hard to make these look very exciting, but they are fun and tasty. I’ll be having them on the side of most of my dinners for a while.

The weather in Northern Virginia was gorgeous this weekend, so today found me at one of my regular haunts, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I think this is a mockingbird, but I’m a little unsure because his wings seem a little too rounded. Please correct me if I’m wrong!

Eastern bluebird:

Cedar waxwing:

Circumhorizon arc in the clouds:

Time to go home!

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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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Sauerkraut Noodles with Seitan

Every October 6th my father emails me to wish me a happy German-American Day. And every October 6th at least one food blog reminds me it’s National Noodle Day. So for dinner tonight, obviously I was having German noodles, right? The only trouble was the noodles involved in German dishes are always egg noodles, and even if I found a non-eggy noodle I thought would suffice, I’ve been eschewing the heavy dinners I feared anything “German noodly” would turn out to be. So I went browsing around Wegmans looking for a wheat-alternative noodle that would help me make a lighter dish. I found this rice spaghetti, which are absolutely, positively nowhere near being German. Nonetheless, I decided to try them. You could absolutely be much more authentic and use wide wheat noodle, although if you are vegan, you’ll probably end up having to use linguine or something similar.

Sauerkraut Noodles with Seitan

1 1/2 cups chopped seitan (I like to make a big batch on the weekend and freeze it in smaller portions)
1 cup vegan “beef” broth
3 Tbsp German mustard
2 Tbsp vinegar – I used malt, but really any kind would be okay
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp liquid smoke (optional)
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp celery seed
1 white onion, sliced into slivers
14 oz sauerkraut
2 Tbsp vegan sour cream (optional)
noodles of your choice, cooked unless you are using rice noodles like me

Whisk together the broth, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, caraway seeds, chili pepper flakes, and celery seeds in a medium bowl. Chop the seitan and add to the broth. Let it marinade for a while, say, half an hour or so (or much longer in the refrigerator).

The directions on my rice spaghetti said to soak it in water for two minutes before cooking. If you are using any other noodles, cook them as directed and set aside.

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven and add the onions. Cook until they begin to get soft.

Drain the seitan, reserving the marinade.

Add the seitan to the onions and cook until the seitan begins to brown.

Stir in the sauerkraut. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any homemade, though I do have a pot fermenting that will be ready in a couple of weeks, so I had to make do with an authentic German brand from Wegmans.

Add the broth and the sour cream. I’m not sure the sour cream added that much flavor to the final dish so I wouldn’t go out of my way to include it next time.

CAT INTERLUDE. I have THIS whining at me the entire time I’m cooking anything:

I swear, that is SO like Tigger!

If you are using regular cooked noodles, boil off the broth a bit, or perhaps thicken it with a bit of cornstarch dissolved in cold water. I, however, needed to finish cooking my now-soaked rice noodles, which were softened, but not al dente. So I gently stirred in the noodles, lowered the heat a bit, covered, and let the noodles cook for 5 to 10 minutes. My original plan was to bake this dish like a casserole, but I wasn’t sure if the rice noodles would go soggy before everything else was heated through, so I kept it on the stovetop. The noodles stayed al dente.

And that’s all there was to it. I can’t figure out if that rice spaghetti was being marketed towards an Asian crowd (it seems proud to be a product of Singapore and I did find it in the Asian section) or a gluten-free crowd (it’s labelled as such) or what, exactly. I think it would seem more natural in an Asian dish, but then, I eat a lot of rice noodles in Asian dishes so maybe that’s just what I expect. You won’t get an experience like the European egg noodles that come to mind when you think “German noodle dish”, but I think I felt a little less fat after dinner than I would have had I used heavier noodles. Mark really liked this; he had three servings and informed me it was “elite”. So I don’t know, maybe my German ancestors would have found this meal absurd, but it was tasty and it’s hard to argue against something when you have people going back for thirds.

As I mentioned in my last post, we released some more raccoons a couple of weeks ago. Here’s a glimpse:

I think this one looks like he’s picking a lock…which by the way would be a great profession for a raccoon if he were human, and not just because they have built-in masks. I think that’s why I find this picture so hilarious.

Back inside, we have a few younger raccoons who will be over-wintering with us or who will be released around January. What is this one doing?

Gnawing on my camera strap, that’s what. If you want to know what kind of person I am, I’m the kind of person who will give a raccoon my camera strap when asked. I also give them my shoes, which they find just as fascinating.

Like I’m going to turn THIS face down.

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Pasta with Ramps

It’s been two weeks since I last posted?! It’s not from a lack of cooking, but I haven’t made anything new or blog-worthy recently. Ironically, I have spent much more time working on this blog than usual over the last couple of weeks, you just can’t see the results yet: I’m putting together an index of recipes. I also thought I’d spice things up by truncating some of my database tables! Wooo! That wasn’t the first time I’ve had to congratulate myself for backing things up nightly, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Anyway, hopefully I’ll have that up soon if I can manage to do it without destroying everything…again. It’s been interesting categorizing all my recipes; I discovered trends I wasn’t expecting. I apparently cook a lot of Mexican food?

In the meantime, brace yourself for the same old story: Northern Virginia, grrrr! I DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH LONGER I CAN LAST HERE. My office is 10 miles from my house. Sometimes I mention that to someone who does not live in this area and they respond, “oh, so you’re close to work; that must be nice.” I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or punch the person in the face when I hear that. It’s normal for my commute to take an hour. If I’m very, very lucky, it’s 45 minutes. Sometimes, though, it’s even more than an hour. Today it was TWO AND A HALF HOURS. To go 10 miles. It’s the sort of thing that can drive (no pun intended) a person crazy. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I weren’t able to read books on my phone. I read a few hundred (yes a few HUNDRED) pages of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White while sitting in traffic (iPhone pages, yes, but we’re talking about 20% of a rather long book), and it kept me incredibly calm. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I recommend The Woman in White for reading-while-driving, by the way. It’s a peculiar kind of reading that not all types of books are conducive to, but I’m really enjoying this one. (Wodehouse is also good reading-while-driving material. Zola, not so much. By the way, everything I read on my phone is free from Project Gutenberg.)

Anyway, after nearly three hours in traffic, with a headache and cramps, I was tempted to skip the grocery store visit I had planned to make, feeling justified in just wanting to go home and curl up in the fetal position. I rationalized that I’d feel better about life if I managed to accomplish the task I’d set out to do, though, so I forced myself to stop at Wegmans. And I was rewarded with ramps! Rather overpriced ramps, but ramps nonetheless. Pasta with Ramps was sounding like the perfect antidote to my miserable afternoon. It wasn’t until after I’d already written up most of this post, made the dinner, took the photographs, processed the photographs, and then tried to upload the photographs that I realized I posted almost the exact same thing last year. I really should have known this considering I spent several hours this weekend categorizing all my past posts! Anyway, I’m posting this one even if it is a near-duplicate.

This is Mario Batali’s recipe. The internet pretty much agreed it is the best ramp pasta recipe, and it was so simple (and vegan!) I didn’t see reason to mess with it. I did scale it down to two servings, however.

Pasta with Ramps

8 oz dry pasta of your choice
4 tsp extra virgin olive oil
4 oz fresh ramps
1 tsp – 1 Tbsp red chili flakes, depending on the heat level of your chili flakes and your love of chili flakes
kosher or Maldon flaked salt, to taste
1 Tbsp breadcrumbs

Boil a big pot of water. I don’t always salt the pot when I cook pasta – it depends on what I’m doing with the pasta – but it matters in this dish, so once it’s boiling, add about two tablespoons of salt to the pot, then add the pasta, cook until al dente, then drain.

Wash the ramps very well. They are dirty little things. Line the root ends of a few at a time up and trim them, then repeat for the others.

Line all the ramps up and slice the greens from the white parts.

Chop the white parts.

Roughly chop the green parts.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, then add the white parts of the ramps and saute until soft.

Add the chili flakes and the salt and cook a minute or two.

Add the green parts of the ramps.

Cook, stirring, until they wilt.

Toss in the pasta and stir until coated with the oil and ramps.

Sprinkle with bread crumbs to serve. I served it with some asparagus, which I grilled then drizzled with lemon juice + lemon zest, some smoked Maldon, fresh pepper, and a tiny bit of olive oil. I peeled the asparagus after seeing this survey on The Kitchn and being completely confounded by the very idea of peeling asparagus. (Note: I don’t intend to do it again.)

A final comment about this dish (until I make it again next May and try to post it a third time): LOVE the pasta you choose. I was totally not wild about that kamut and quinoa stuff I used tonight. I love trying alternative grain pastas, but some are better than others, and this just didn’t work well with the ramps. You really need a very pasta-y pasta.

In other news, I finally got to see the Julia Child kitchen display at the Museum of American History. Mark and I occasionally take advantage of our proximity to the nation’s capital and visit some of the Smithsonian museums.

I like Julia Child’s kitchen because it’s totally my style. Which is pretty much hanging stuff everywhere! I will never have a sleek kitchen with all my tools hidden away. For one thing, I have too many tools. And for another, I like them to be accessible. And what’s more, I like LOOKING at them. I couldn’t have worked in Julia’s kitchen because she had all of her counters raised 5″ to accommodate her height, but I love the peg boards and the super homey feel. You want to BE in Julia’s kitchen. People seem to want to be in my kitchen as well. People often tell me they love my kitchen, which I always find weird because it’s a rental house and basically I’m just making do with what I have. But then again, my kitchen IS about as awesome as a rental kitchen can be, mostly because it’s mine. It is, however, much smaller than Julia’s, although hers is not humongous.

And with that, goodnight and thank you.

 
 
 
 What? Kittens? Sigh. You’re so insistent. Okay. I needed an updated picture for things like my new About page. So I took some photos of myself. Some of the outtakes are amusing. This is a frequent happening:

I walk around the house like a pirate with his parrot half the time.

This morning BOTH cats jumped on my shoulders AT THE SAME TIME. I wish I’d been in front of the camera for that.

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Shirataki with peanut sauce, and a bag-making extravaganza

I spoiled my appetite for dinner a second time this week, and so wanted something very small and very quick later, and yet also wanted to feed Mark. I had some tofu shirataki in the refrigerator, and decided to go that route. Shirataki noodles were all the rage a year or two ago, with their 20 calories and very low carbs. I don’t make them that often because honestly, they don’t fill me up. But they seemed like the perfect thing when I wanted to eat something small not long before going to bed. I used three packages because I knew Mark would eat two. Here’s what I did.

Tofu Shirataki with Peanut Sauce and Veggies

3 packages tofu shirataki
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets and steamed
1 bell pepper, red, orange, or yellow, chopped
2 cups napa cabbage, chopped
5.5 oz baby corn (Super H sells these adorable 5.5 oz cans of these)

Peanut Sauce
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 oz coconut milk (Super H sells 5.5 oz cans of this too, which is great when you don’t need much)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
1 large clove garlic, grated
squirts of sriracha to your taste
juice of 1 lime

Remove shirataki from package and rinse very, very well in a sieve – this stuff has a funky odor you need to get rid of before using. Place in a pot, cover well with water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Put all of the peanut sauce ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding some water if necessary to thin. Set aside.

Heat some oil in a wok, then add the bell peppers and baby corn, frying for a couple of minutes. Add the broccoli and cabbage and fry another few minutes. Next, drain the noodles and add them to the wok, stirring well and frying another minute or so. Pour the peanut sauce over the noodles and stir well.

I just wish I’d had something red to use for a better presentation!

So in news you probably don’t care about, I’ve been on a bag-making kick this weekend. First, I had this awesome fabric I had been considering using for my lunch bag but didn’t, so I made farmers market totes/grocery bags out of it. I LOVE this fabric. Each of the bags reverses to both green peppers and tomatoes. Adorable!

Next, I needed a tote for the beach. As I mentioned in my last post, Mark’s family lives near Folly Beach in Charleston, so we spend a lot of time there and I need something to lug my towel, books, and sunscreen around. I had a linen/cotton blend fabric leftover from a previous project that I used for this.

The inside is a cute squid and seahorse fabric, but I only had a fat quarter of each of two matching colors, so the lining is two different colors, but I think it ended up being even cooler that way.

I got all crazy and added a pocket to this one. Since I didn’t have any more squid fabric, I used a matching seahorse fat quarter I had to line the pocket. I left the selvage on the linen fabric because I liked the fringe effect.

I’m quite pleased with my beach tote and can’t wait to use it. You can’t really tell, but behind the tote it is STORMING! We’ve gotten so much rain today! (Which is partially why I spent all day making bags.) I’ve been getting alerts about coastal flooding and tornadoes all day. BAD DAY FOR THE BEACH. A girl can dream, though.

Next up, a smaller tote with bats and glow-in-the-dark skulls. You may not know this about me, but I’m a closet goth. I don’t really identify as a goth, but I have loved bats and Halloween and haunted houses and dark things since I was a kid, and I’m not kidding, black has been my favorite color since I was about 3. AND I LOVE BAUHAUS. IT’S TRUE. Oh, and I may have possibly met my husband in a goth club. I guess you could say I have gothic tendencies. I live with snakes and lizards and other things that go bump in the night!

Basically I made this tote just because I loved the fabric. And I DO need a book tote. This will also be good for keeping in the car and using as a bag when I need to run into a store for a couple of things. Lined with a cool red fabric I used for Christmas gift bags.

Yesterday I had to go to the fabric store to pick up nylon webbing for the straps for the retro veggie bags because I didn’t have enough fabric to make the straps. While I was there, I found these fruit fabrics for 50% off. I already have a ton of reusable grocery bags, but they’re getting kind of grungy and they aren’t the kind that launder particularly well. So fruit grocery bags it was! Green apples reverses to red apples, oranges reverses to bananas, and grapes reverses to cherries.

Finally, I declared our house a paper-towel-free zone a long time ago, but I’ve noticed that our cleaning person keeps bringing in contraband paper towels and using them to clean. I bought her cloth paper towels from etsy, but I don’t think they were big enough for her. And then at the opposite side of the spectrum, I have Mark, who thinks nothing of sopping up spilled beverages (and he spills a lot of beverages) with our best bath towels. So I took a yard of cotton flannel that I never used in the rag quilt I’d intended it for, and cut it into 12″ squares. I made a total of 16 cloth paper towels; some were a bit longer on two sides in order to use up all the fabric. Then I had fun trying out every overlocking stitch on my new sewing machine to finish the edges. Good times. I folded them up neatly and put them in a basket. Then, because I think part of Maria’s resistance to the cloth paper towels is she doesn’t feel right leaving soiled items behind her, I found a little pail and labeled it “DIRTY” so the used ones have a set place to go. I stored both the basket and the pail under the kitchen sink with the cleaning supplies, so hopefully they’ll be seen and used by anyone who needs to clean stuff around here. We’ll see if anyone other than me and the cats follow through.

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Rice-a-Roni

A few weeks ago I was looking around for something different to do with rice and came across this recipe. Since I always have orzo on hand for adding to soups, I decided to make something similar. I was startled when I took a bite of it later: it tasted exactly like Rice-a-Roni. Which was surprising to me because I haven’t had Rice-a-Roni in over 20 years. I never would have thought I’d remember what it tasted like. In fact, I had forgotten Rice-a-Roni even existed. (Does it still exist?)

“Did your parents ever make Rice-a-Roni?” I asked Mark.

“No, why?” he asked.

“Because this tastes just like it.”

“I’ve never heard of Rice-a-Roni,” Mark claimed. “What is it?”

Well, I’ve never heard of not having heard of Rice-a-Roni, but I dropped the subject. But when we were washing dishes later, I started to sing, “Rice-a-Roni….”, and Mark chimed in happily, “the San Franciscan treat!”

“I thought you’d never heard of it,” I accused him.

“Well, now that you’re singing it, I know it. Whatever it was, it was awesome. Make it all the time.”

So, Mark, here I am making it all the time. Or every few weeks anyway. This is a quick and easy side dish. I’ll have no problem making it whenever Mark wants it.

Rice-a-Roni

1/2 cup orzo
1/2 cup long-grain white rice
3 or 4 scallions, white parts minced, green parts chopped, separated OR 2 tsp dried minced onions
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed OR 1 tsp garlic powder
2 cups vegan “chicken” broth
2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
parsley – fresh would be awesome if you have it; dried if not

If using, chop the green part of the scallion, and mince the white part.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a medium, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the orzo …

and stir to coat, …

… then saute until it’s beginning to turn golden.

Add the white part of the scallions or the minced onions and the garlic or garlic powder. It tasted a lot more like packaged Rice-a-Roni when I used the dried minced onions and garlic powder, by the way. Continue to saute until the orzo is completely golden.

Add the rice, broth, and soy sauce.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 25 minutes or until all of the broth is absorbed. Stir in the green parts of the scallions, if using, and the parsley.

I served it with frozen veggies. JUST LIKE MOM USED TO MAKE! And a marinated and grilled Gardein chick’n scallopini, drizzled with sriracha. (Just like Mom never made!)

So, today is Tigger’s birthday. Look how nicely he poses for the camera! (This photo is particularly remarkable because I took it myself; it’s not as if there were someone behind the camera getting Tigger to look in that direction. He just knew to do it.) Tigger would let me hold him just like this for as long as I wanted, in fact, he begged me to. He’d even dance with me. Happy Birthday, Mr Sims. I miss you.

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Mexican Lasagna

Feel sorry for Smark. The poor boy had two root canals yesterday. I made him some “Cream” of Asparagus Soup for dinner last night, and I thought maybe I’d have to change the name of this blog to I Eat Soup (which would be fine with me, I love soup), but today he said he was feeling up for something more substantial. I still didn’t think it would be a good idea to make, say, ddukbokki, so I peered into the cupboards and tried to think of things that are fairly soft to eat but don’t make you feel like an invalid. Pasta seemed like a good bet, but I’m inexplicably out of any shapes and didn’t feel like straight up spaghetti. I did, however, have lasagna noodles. I’m not sure what possessed me to make a Mexican lasagna, but that’s what I did.

This lasagna can be as easy or difficult to make as you’d like. You can either use pre-packaged foods for most of the layers or make everything from scratch. I was looking for a pretty easy meal tonight, but I did have to make what I didn’t have on hand from scratch, so mine was a hybrid. By the way, Trader Joe’s No-Boil lasagna noodles have transformed my life! Years ago, when I was first learning to cook, I hosted a dinner party. Even before I learned to cook, I had the terrible habit of trying new dishes for dinner parties, although I used far more actual recipes back then. For this particular party, I was making some sort of vegan lasagna thing and the recipe said I could use no-boil noodles, which I thought would be a real time-saver. Well, the dish was very tasty and was a big hit with my guests, but the noodle were a bit underdone and sort of ruined it. Since then I have hated no-boil noodles and stayed far, far away from them. Consequently, making lasagna always seemed a bit arduous. I’d do it – it’s one of Mark’s favorite foods and I’m quite fond of it myself – but cooking the noodles is sort of a pain; you never end up with a pan full of perfect noodles – half of them are always broken, and they stick together before you’re ready for them. Then a few months ago I saw no-boil noodles at Trader Joe’s and decided to take a chance on them. They worked perfectly! And they are a fun size: just right for an 8×8″ pan, which makes a great size lasagna for 2 to 4 people. In retrospect, I wonder if my failed dish so long ago simply didn’t have enough liquid in it to fully reconstitute the noodles, but I’ll never know because I’ve long since lost the recipe; all I remember is it involved pine nuts. So if you aren’t close to a Trader Joe’s, feel free to try different no-boil noodles, but just make sure your lasagna is brimming with liquid-y sauce. I can’t vouch for any other no-boil noodles, though.

The first thing you need to make for the Mexican lasagna is nacho sauce.

Nacho Sauce
This uses the Yeast Cheeze recipe from the New Farm Cookbook/Simply Heavenly!. This has been a staple at my parties for years, and is gobbled up even by non-vegans. An ex-boyfriend once told me to bottle and sell it.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups water
1 Tbsp soy margarine
1 tsp prepared mustard (I usually use Dijon)
2 cups salsa – use a thick, chunky, tomato-y kind

Whisk together the flour, nutritional yeast, salt, and garlic powder in a medium pot. Whisk in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking often, until it thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in the margarine and mustard.

Then whisk in the salsa.

I didn’t have any pre-made salsa so I did this:

I put 3 cloves of pressed garlic, 3 Tbsp minced onion, 1 minced jalapeno, two frozen cubes of cilantro (from Trader Joe’s), some salt, and 3 Tbsp tomato paste into a bowl:

I mixed that all together, then added a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes and mixed well.

And now the lasagna:

Mexican Lasagna

no-boil lasagna noodles (or cooked lasagna noodles)
1 batch Nacho Sauce, recipe above
1 can refried beans (or make your own from dried pintos)
1 1/2 cup veggie crumbles/mince, ground seitan, “beefy” TVP crumbles, or other “beef” substitute (I used 3 crumbled veggie burgers)
veggies of your choice, about 1 or 2 cups (I used corn, onions, and spinach)
taco or enchilada sauce
vegan cheddar “cheese”, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Smear a thin layer of nacho sauce on the bottom of an 8×8″ pan.

Place a layer of noodles on top of it:

Smear the refried beans on the noodles:

Top with some nacho sauce:

Add a layer of noodles, then the “beef”.

Then some more sauce:

Another layer of noodles, then the veggies:

And the rest of the sauce:

Add the last layer of noodles and top with the taco or enchilada sauce, as well as the cheddar “cheese” if using. I used some taco sauce leftover from the other night, which I made simply by blending together a clove or two of garlic, a can of tomato sauce, some onion powder, and some pickled jalapenos and pickled jalapeno juice. I wish I’d had more of the taco sauce; it provided a nice tang but I only had maybe 1/4 cup left. I’d use more like 1/2-3/4 cup next time.

Unless you love cleaning your oven, put the lasagna pan on a cookie sheet. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake 15 minutes more. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before eating. This was good, although I think Mark overestimated his chewing ability because when I asked him after his first bite how it tasted he replied, “painful”. Apparently he hadn’t eaten all day and had forgotten how to chew. He did manage to eat an entire piece, though, and I assure you, it’s not much a workout for your mouth. I think it worked well as a progression food.

This has been a photo-heavy post, so just one picture of my “helpers”:

I hope to be back soon; I haven’t been as busy as I have been the last few months, but I also haven’t been cooking much that’s new or interesting; I’ve been doing a lot of old favorites lately. But that will get boring soon!

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Ramp Pasta

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

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

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

Ramp Pasta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add the ramp leaves …

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

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

Toss in the pasta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pasta with Tempeh Bacon

I generally consider pasta one of those things that doesn’t need a recipe. I mean, basically you just toss it with stuff that tastes good together, right? Who needs a recipe? Unless you are perhaps doing something revolutionary with the pasta. This isn’t revolutionary by any means. But I had the urge to use the camera tonight, so I wrote it up anyway. It was also good and worth repeating, or I wouldn’t subject you to it.

Pasta with Tempeh Bacon

8 oz pasta – just about any shape would be okay
1/2 onion, chopped
6 slices tempeh bacon (homemade or packaged)
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 can artichoke hearts, chopped
1/2 can chickpeas
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes
1/4 cup white wine or water (preferably pasta cooking water)
1/4 cup water (preferably pasta cooking water)
salt or vegan soup seasoning (I used Vegeta), to taste
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegan cheese, grated (I used Sheese Mozarella) (optional)

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Mince the garlic:

Prep the other ingredients: chop the tempeh bacon, artichoke hearts, onion, and tomatoes; drain the chickpeas.

Heat some olive oil in a wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent.

Add the tempeh bacon and a few minutes later, the garlic.

Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cook another couple of minutes.

Add the cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, chickpeas, oregano, chili pepper flakes, pepper, and salt or seasoning and cook for two or three minutes.

Add the white wine (or half the water) to deglaze the pan, then toss in the cooked pasta as as well as the water, mixing well.

Optionally toss with vegan cheese.

I served with roasted broccoli (tossed with a mixture of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, garlic, and salt and baked at 400 degrees for 15 minutes). This was a quick but tasty weekday meal, the pasta using all pantry items and therefore being easy to whip up with no planning.

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