I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm dreaming of a Crawlspace Christmas

The front yard had been flooded for so long I had started to take it for granted. We had a boatload o' rain in November and guess I just thought the sump pump was still dealing with the residuals.

That's what I get for thinking.

On my way to work last Monday, I looked under the crawlspace again (during daylight hours this time) to see why the pump was running and hark! The pressure tank was spewing water to beat the band. Back inside, I turned off the breaker for the well pump, called work and let the supervisor know that Houston had a problem, then called the plumber to deliver the same message. They could get here the same day, yay, but not till after lunch.

By 3 pm, I was the proud owner of a brand new pressure tank and $650 worth of additional credit card debt. Note that I have been waiting for this tank to die for years, and when the plumber told me they are usually good for 20 years and the date of install was 1978, I consoled myself with the fact that ye ol' pressure tank was 13 years beyond its lifespan.

However. Holiday spending is now rather curtailed, not that it is ever over the top here anyway. There is a Poinsettia that was purchased before the pressure tank incident, which will now serve as the main decoration, along with some nandina berries (see preceding picture) scattered here and there. Perhaps the pressure tank could serve as the Christmas tree- I imagine it would be rather festive all strung up with lights 'n ornaments, however one would have to be in the crawlspace to appreciate it. So I have declared this year to be my Crawlspace Christmas.

One thing that is relatively cheap as far as holiday spending goes is food, if you do things right. Food may be the gift of choice this season. My middle brother and his family usually host Christmas dinner every year, and in the past I have often taken a baked pasta florentine (i.e., with spinach) as an alternative main to the turkey and/or ham they always serve. This year my sister in law requested the pasta dish specifically, and I am all aflutter because I will FINALLY have a wonderful non-dairy ricotta I am not afraid to use in my favorite baked pasta recipe, (read: I am not afraid that family members will say "Blechh, what the heck did you put in the pasta?") I have always broken down and used dairy ricotta in the past, which is not my preference. (The pasta florentine recipe will be posted at a later date).

Many, many non-dairy ricotta recipes were reviewed before I arrived at this one. It could be much simpler than this and would likely be just fine as a component of a recipe with other ingredients, but I was trying to recreate a ricotta that was relatively neutral, yet still had a "rounded" flavor. Those notes aside, if you want to eliminate the more esoteric ingredients (miso powder and maca powder, to be specific) I'm sure the recipe would still work. In keeping with the goal of a relatively neutral flavor, I did not add the typical Italian seasonings often suggested for non-dairy ricotta, as those will be added with other ingredients in the finished dish.

Maca powder is probably the most exotic, but it is available at many health food stores, and for most recipes I've seen is used in very small quantities (usually less than a tablespoon at a time). It is sometimes recommended for non-dairy cheese recipes.

Miso powder can likely be replaced with light miso paste, although I'm not sure of the conversion between dry and paste miso. Start with a teaspoon of paste miso, if that's what you have, and decide if it needs anything else.

Tofu Cashew Ricotta

Makes 2 cups, perfect for replacing a 15-16 oz. container of dairy ricotta

½ cup very finely ground raw cashews
(start with about a generous 1/3 cup cashew pieces, and use a spice grinder for finest grind)
1 Tbs. nutritional yeast
1 tsp. dried miso powder
1 tsp. maca powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. granulated garlic, optional (powder should work too)
¼ tsp. granulated onion, optional (powder should work too)
1 Tbs. neutral tasting oil, such as canola
1 Tbs. lemon juice, more to taste

14 - 16 oz. extra firm tofu, drained but not pressed

Combine cashews through lemon juice in a medium bowl and blend together.

Crumble half the tofu into the bowl and mix with the other ingredients, then crumble in the remaining tofu and continue mixing to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients.

Adjust seasonings, oil, and lemon juice to taste as desired, and refrigerate until use.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Leftover thanks, and everything

All of the leftovers are long gone by now, not that I had that many to start out with. When Thanksgiving is at somebody else's house every year, you go home with the remains of what you brought (although sometimes I sneak a hunk 'o pie in to take back for breakfast the next day). This year I took cranberry sauce as usual, but simpled it up compared to what I usually bring.

For the past several years, I've done a cranberry chutney, which I of course love, but it seems only a few other people in the family do (don't think I've posted it before, so I will do so before Christmas for anyone who likes a little more adventure in their sauce). This year I did almost straight cranberry sauce as instructed on the Trader Joe's package, but added three peeled, cored, and diced Jazz apples, and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. Wowza! I am usually so tired of cranberry sauce after a few days that it ends up getting thrown, but this was so good it was gone in two days. And I am actually happy that there is an extra bag of cranberries in the fridge! More sauce!

I cooked it longer than you would a straight cranberry sauce to get the apples to soften, and frankly it could have cooked even more with no harm done. It was definitely a cross between cranberry sauce and a chunky applesauce, which means it was great on a toasted "everything" bagel with Tofutti cream cheese. No kidding, you have to try this. If I had any bagels left I would make some cran-apple sauce NOW just for this purpose.

This year I also had mashed potato duty. It's easy to make really good mashed potatoes if you return the potatoes to the pan after cooking to dry them out a bit, and then add the milk/butter/salt/pepper. But I didn't get the full mashed potato experience because my family does gravy from the bird so I passed on that, since I like my gravy bird-less. There was a small container of mashed potatoes that returned home with me, and alas, no gravy.

BUT. As luck would have it, Tofu Mom did a month of gravy posts during Vegan MoFo, and what did I find there but a recipe for cashew gravy that I swear has made gravy a food group at my house. Now I love gravy anyway, but it always seems more trouble than it's worth. Not so here, even with my substitutions it was basically blend the beejeepers out of the raw ingredients and then heat through to thicken up (although Tofu Mom's original recipe is not at all time consuming, I am pathologically incapable of doing anybody's recipe as written the first time around).

I ended up using vegetarian broth made with "Better Than Bouillon" Vegan Chicken Broth paste instead of water, upping the cashews to 1/2 cup instead of 1/3 cup, reducing the tamari to 1 Tbs., increasing the nutritional yeast to 2 Tbs., taking out the onion powder/garlic powder, and using a half tsp. of poultry seasoning instead of the sage. Better Than Bouillon is really good as an instant broth, but it is quite generous with the salt so I could have probably gotten away with no tamari, or only a teaspoon or so.

And the results were...

Gravy noodles! Please try not to faint from excitement...

OK, OK, plopping boiled noodles on a plate and dumping on the gravy is not exactly cuisine, but this is the kind of leftovers I'd want if Thanksgiving were at my house. So no worries, I had to make some of my own leftovers after the fact, but in addition to mashed 'taters or noodles, guess what else "leftover" gravy is good on?

Toasted "everything" bagels! No kidding again, this is just as legit as chipped beef gravy on a biscuit- there just ain't no cow chips in the gravy!

This is a rather late wish, but I hope everyone had a fab Thanksgiving, and lots of leftovers for which to give thanks. Bring on the rest of the holidays! (I think...)