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

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Que sera, queso

WTM has posted about (plant-based) queso before. As a matter of fact, it has been noted that it is a food group at my house. However the food group continues to evolve in the wild (i.e., on the internet) as well as here, and in the past few years quesos with vegetable bases in addition to, or without, nutritional yeast have gained in popularity.

Check out your favorite search engine for scores of plant-based quesos with potatoes and carrots (sometimes onions and/or cashews) in the base, and especially the VegNews post from 2008 for Best Mac 'n Cheese on the Planet. Many of the aforementioned have influenced the recipe below, as well as my previous queso post, which had origins in a Vegan Explosion post (a version of which eventually went commercial,  congrats to Food for Lovers!) but we have to go back much further to find the mother lode. 

Years ago I saw my first plant-based queso-y, cheese-y style dip/spread in Joanne Stepaniak's Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook (Unprocessed Cheese Sauce) published in 2003. I no longer have the version that preceded that (The Uncheese Cookbook, 1994), and cannot remember if it appeared in the original Uncheese Cookbook (Update: I repurchased the original version of the cookbook, and yes it had a similar recipe.) At any rate we should give credit where it is due and I send thanks to Jo for inspiring so many succeeding iterations of non-dairy, non-exploitative, yet totally scarfable chile con queso recipes. This version does include nutritional yeast and cashews, although if you have issues with either, they could be left out for a somewhat different flavor profile.

Applications will of course not be limited to just dippin' of chips. Think: taco salads, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, tacos, cheese fries, etc. 

And try not to feel too virtuous about gettin' yer veggies on in the meantime.

Chile con Queso

Makes about 4 cups (party size)

2 cups potatoes, peeled and cut in 1" cubes
½ cup carrots, cut in ½" cubes
½ cup chopped shallot or onion
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 Tbs. raw cashews (these will be steamed with the vegetables for easier blending)

½ cup nutritional yeast
¼ cup sunflower or other neutral oil, or melted vegan butter
¾ cup plain, unsweetened soymilk or other unsweetened plant-based milk
1 Tbs. coconut vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice, or ¾ tsp. lactic acid powder
1 Tbs. prepared yellow mustard
1 tsp. mellow white miso
1½ - 2 tsp. salt, to taste

10 oz. can diced tomatoes with chiles, well drained
¼ cup diced canned chiles (or 2 whole canned chiles, diced), well drained
1 tsp. New Mexico chile powder, or other chile powder to taste

additional plant-based milk to correct consistency, if necessary

Place about an inch of water in a large pot with a steamer insert and bring water to a boil. Add potatoes through cashews to the steamer insert, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and steam until potatoes and carrots are soft (about 15-20 minutes; check potatoes and carrots with a wooden skewer at about 15 minutes).

Remove ingredients from the steamer and place in a high speed blender with nutritional yeast through salt. Blend until very smooth.

Transfer blender mixture to a saucepan. Stir in tomatoes through chile powder and heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes to blend flavors (or transfer to a small crockpot and heat through if serving later). If a thinner consistency is desired, blend in additional plant-based milk to taste, a tablespoon at a time. The queso should be thick but 'dippable'.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Top o' the tortilla to ye

Yet another post in the vein of go-withs, condiments, seasonings, and general topping-off-mundane-stuff you normally eat. A while back on the Gentle Chef Facebook forum, someone mentioned their undying love for Peppercot Sauce. Which I have never seen 'round these parts, but had vaguely heard of. So after some internet rambling around I learned that this is basically an apricot preserves/jam, ground chilies, and vinegar type sauce (specifically "Apricots, Sugar, Pectin, Apple Cider Vinegar, Red Dried Chilies")

Sounds good so far, basically a Southwestern chutney. And I went in search of the original. Not available here on the east coast, as far as I can tell. And I almost ordered some, but really, if the ingredients are that simple, should I go to that expense?

No. Well at least not right off the bat.

Some day I will trial the original Peppercot Sauce[s], but until then this is what I came up with. And I expect it is not too far from the revered originals, given that the ingredient list was pretty simple. Spicy, sweet, zingy. Just the ticket for an otherwise bland fajita or taco.

Chilecot Sauce

10 oz. jar apricot preserves
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. dried New Mexico chile flakes to taste, depending on the hotness of the chiles. 
>Note that my dried chilies which I then ground into powder were rather mild; you may not need as much. Start with a teaspoon, blend, and taste. The heat will spread, so don't overdo it unless you have bullet-proof taste buds.

Blend all ingredients thoroughly and chill for a couple of hours before using. Store in a tightly closed bottle in the refrigerator.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Time to dress up

Long time, no nada. That's what happens with Facebook competing for your time and attention. It becomes the blog. But I think it's starting to wear thin. There has been some noodling around in the kitchen and elsewhere 'round here, but a lot of the noodling has been following all of my cooking groups on FB, in particular the Gentle Chef (new cookbook just released! It's awesome!), Vegan Meringue- Hits and Misses!, and several others, as well as all of the cooks/chefs I keep madly collecting cookbooks from. 

How cool is this- most of my cooking heroes are now FB friends. And food science is transforming plant-based cuisine. And I am just in awe of the developments we've seen in only a couple of years.

Most of my own concoctions of late have been condiments/seasonings/quick mixes, so here follows a pantry mix cobbled up today. I have been craving dippy stuff (which is normal) but also salads, and Ranch dressing/dip has always been one of my fave complements for both rabbit food and munchies. So after perusing various other versions of that famous dressing-mix-in-a-packet this Labor Day weekend, my own version is now tucked away in the pantry for many jars of dressing (and dip) to come. 

Note that this mix is not going to look like the white stuff in the packets, because it does not have fillers. This is straight essence, babies (i.e., seasonings, and yes I am channeling my inner Emeril), so you don't need that much. I use and recommend non-dairy milk (such as soymilk or cashew milk), and eggless mayo (such as Just Mayo or the homemade mayo from the Gentle Chef cookbooks) as the bases. I also doubled the batch (so there would be no dressing emergencies in the near future...)

Kicked Up Ranch Dressing Mix

4 Tbs. dried parsley
2 Tbs. onion flakes
1 Tbs. garlic powder
1 Tbs. onion powder
1 Tbs. dried dill weed
1 Tbs. dried chives
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. chile powder
1 tsp. paprika

In a food processor, pulse all ingredients a few times to chop up the larger flakes, transfer to an airtight jar with some headspace (for re-mixing ingredients that have settled), and store in a cool, dark pantry or cupboard. Shake jar vigorously before measuring out mix.

To make dressing or dip:

2 tsp. mix, or to taste
½ cup + 2 Tbs. mayo, and 1/4 cup + 2 Tbs. milk for dressing,  OR
¾ cup + 2 Tbs. mayo, and 2 Tbs. milk for dip
½ tsp. lactic acid powder OR 1 Tbs. vinegar or lemon juice (this gives the buttermilk flavor)
¼ - ½ tsp. xanthan gum, if a thicker dressing is desired (xanthan gum is often available in the gluten-free baking section of the grocery store)

Blend ingredients vigorously, transfer to a bottle or jar, and chill for at least a couple of hours to blend flavors. Dressing/dip will also thicken somewhat with chilling, especially if you add the xanthan gum, although this may not be as 'thick' as the store-bought versions.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Falling into fall

There will be no complaints from me about the cooling days and nights. All in all, we had a pretty mild year, although a very late and somewhat cool spring. Summer was beastly for only a few days compared to most years. And now there is a good excuse to break out the soup pot again for meals-in-a-bowl.

This is yet another reworking of a previously posted recipe, with a little less pasta, and the addition of a few more 'poultry' style seasonings. I also tried a red instead of yellow onion, and Note to Self and Everybody Else- the red in the onion skin can slightly stain the rest of your light-colored ingredients, making things look a little gray almost, so next time back to the yellow onion for me. The taste, of course, was just fine with the red onion, only the color was a little wonky.

I used Trader Joe's Chik strips again for this batch (Beyond Meat Chik strips are also very good), but have also recently done this quite successfully with well-pressed seasoned baked tofu strips. Forgot to take a photo of that batch, but you can find a recipe at Chef Skye Michael Conroy's Gentle Chef website. They are very easy to make and will absolutely hold up in soups or stews. If you haven't done so already, check out the site and the Facebook forum set up to discuss the recipes in his cookbooks. Lots of good work going on there, with lots of input and enthusiasm from the group. This is how we take back our food system, people- audience participation!

Chik Noodle Soup (Redux)

1 Tbs. non-dairy butter (or mild vegetable oil if preferred)
8 oz. vegan chicken-style seitan strips (or well-pressed, seasoned baked tofu), cut in bite-sized pieces

1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

6 cups water
4 tsp. vegan chicken-style broth paste, such as Better Than Bouillon, or equivalent powder to make 4 cups of broth (as an alternative, use 4 cups commercial vegan broth and 2 cups water, instead of 6 cups water and the broth paste/powder)
1 large bay leaf
½ tsp. salt, to taste (check the saltiness of your broth first)
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ tsp. crushed dried sage
¼ tsp. crushed dried savory
¼ tsp. crushed dried rosemary
¼ tsp. crushed dried thyme

2-4 Tbs. fresh parsley, julienned or chopped
3 oz. small pasta shapes (~ ¾ cup), such as small shells

Heat the butter/oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Add the chik or tofu strips and sauté to brown a bit, about 5 minutes. Remove strips to a small bowl or plate and set aside.

If necessary, add more butter/oil to the pan and sauté onion through garlic for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are beginning to soften

Add the water, broth paste/powder, and bay leaf through thyme. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the previously set-aside chik or tofu strips, parsley, and pasta. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes, or until pasta is just al dente. Adjust seasonings to taste if necessary. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Salad days

The breakfast sammies hinted at in the last post (lo those many moons ago) have not happened yet, but! Other sammies have been happening. I have made this recipe three times in the last month, which is a record for me given my short attention span. Tofu for people who think they don't like tofu- substantial, flavorful, toothsome, and not at all weird. A contender in the egg/chicken salad alternatives universe.

Curried Tofu Salad
For best results, make at least several hours to a day ahead.

½ cup plant-based mayo
2 Tbs. chutney or sweet pickle relish
1 Tbs. prepared stone ground or Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. curry powder, such as Madras
1 Tbs. fresh or dried minced chives
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ tsp. Madras curry powder, or other of choice
¼ tsp. chile powder
2 crushed and finely minced garlic cloves, or ½ tsp. garlic granules or powder

14-16 oz. package extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed to expel excess moisture, and crumbled into bite-sized pieces
1 celery stalk , diced (¼ -  ½ cup)
1 carrot, peeled and shredded (¼ -  ½ cup)
½ small green or red bell pepper, minced (¼ -  ½ cup)
4 - 6 scallions (green onions), sliced (¼ -  ½ cup)

In a small bowl, whisk dressing ingredients to blend well. In a large bowl, mix salad ingredients, add dressing, and toss to thoroughly combine. Adjust seasonings to taste and toss again. Chill at least two hours or overnight if time allows to blend flavors.

Serving ideas: on crisp greens, in a pita or wrap, or in a hollowed out tomato for a retro fifties plate.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Down time

There has been a bit of, well, inactivity here at WTM. Won't be much today, and the activity is a reworking of a previous recipe (way to get out of any real work, Carolyn!) There have been a few more hobbies that have kind of butted in to the cooking and gardening aspect of life (vintage sewing machine collection! and quilting! in addition to kitten acquisition!) and the blogging aspect sort of got pushed aside.  

The kitten acquisitions, Sylvan and Terra, are pictured on the right from about a year or so ago, before they turned into Actual  Cats with Personalities. Today they are very happy to help with the new hobbies, such as laying on quilt tops, knocking fabric on the floor, playing with sewing machine parts, and various other destructive entertaining behaviors. But who's complaining? No really! 

There's still been some cooking going on (remind me to tell you about the Wild Rice and Mushroom Pilaf: a keeper; and Porcini Mushroom Stuffing: ditto) however someone forgot to record it. They were probably busy cleaning up sewing machine parts.

The scrambled tofu seasoning recipe offered today comes from a while back (as confessed above) and has been revised and herbed-up some. There was a little too much black salt (the egg-y, sulphur-y salt) in the first go-round for my taste and not enough herbs, so for your consideration, here is version 2.0. Next step- work the seasoning into little make-ahead tofu quiches that can be slapped on a toasted bagel shmeared with some Earth Balance. Breakfast on the run!

Scrambled Tofu Seasoning Mix

4  cups nutritional yeast
3 Tbs. onion granules
2½ Tbs. sea salt
2 Tbs. dried chives
2 Tbs. dried dill weed
1½ tsp. black salt (kala namak, found at Indian grocers or online if your local grocer/health food store does not carry it)
1 Tbs. dried cilantro
1 Tbs. garlic granules
1 Tbs. dried parsley
1 Tbs. dried crumbled sage
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. ground black pepper
1½ tsp. turmeric
1½ tsp. dried ground chile powder
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. ground celery seed

Blend all ingredients well or pulse in a food processor and store in an airtight jar. I keep the bulk of this recipe in about a quart sized jar in the pantry and a smaller amount (in a re-purposed olive jar) on the counter for spur of the moment scrambles. 

A good guide is to start with about a tablespoon per 4 oz. crumbled tofu (but use more or less to taste to suit your own druthers). Saute up some veggies first, if you want to be fancy (mushrooms, onions, and peppers are my faves), add crumbled tofu and stir fry to heat through, then add the seasoning and continue to saute to distribute seasoning evenly. If time allows, take the pan off the heat and cover for 5 - 10 minutes to allow the seasoning a little more time to infuse.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Here's lookin' at you, kid

OK. Another lame-ass post to fill up space. Activity will resume! Recipes, gardening, and political complaints will ensue! Many things have come to pass here at WTM, none any more important or dramatic than anybody else's, but they've been great excuses to not hunker down and contribute to the blogosphere. However posting is fixin' to resume and bring with it lots more aimless meandering.

I just saw today that Vegan Dad will stop posting due to needing to get on with his life. A sad day for those of us who follow alternatives to standard American "cuisine", but it's OK because Vegan Dad actually made a contribution to the general welfare. I have decided that I must do the same before I am allowed to "retire" from blogging, so the world is stuck with my erratic, unfocused blathering for a while yet.

Sorry. But Happy New Year anyway, all!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How to eat the view

Yes, a very long time between posts, and there is some activity here in the garden and kitchen at WTM (not much recently, but some). The latest kitchen adventure will be along shortly, but in the meantime, have a look at this bit of inspiration- I have been threatening to tear up the front yard for ages, and Pam Warhurst may just help me bring my threats to fruition.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Whole lotta shakin' goin' on

This week is starting out pretty annoying. After a relatively quiet couple of months without recurring tummy troubles (i.e., IBS), my innards decided to start some tectonic rumbling again. So I'm home today trying to get them calmed down.

It's definitely a soup day, gray and threatening, even without the tummy issues. So as luck would have it, I have been craving black bean soup for a week or so and made up a huge pot last night.

My doctor has told me that upping the fiber in my diet would help soothe the plumbing, and with my diet being plant-based I should know this.

Plus I should also know that I can't keep shoving food in my mouth like I'm in a race to the finish line. Too many years as a hairdresser in the previous life gave me very bad eating habits.

The upside is that this soup turned out really good, so lunches for the rest of the week are taken care of. Now I just have to learn to take care of the rest of me.

Black Bean Soup with Corn and Tomatoes

1 Tbs. neutral oil
1 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbs. chile powder, or to taste, such as Guajillo or New Mexico (I like these as they're not too incendiary)
1 Tbs. ground cumin, or to taste
½ tsp. black pepper, or to taste

4 cups vegetable broth (such as Better Than Bouillon)
1 lb. dry black beans, soaked and cooked until tender, or 4 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1½ cups fresh or frozen/thawed corn, or a 15 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained and rinsed
2 medium-large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced, or a 14-15 oz. can petite diced tomatoes with juice

Optional: ¼ cup or so minced cilantro, to stir in at the end of cooking

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.

Sauté onion through garlic for 5-10 minutes until onion is tender.

Add chili powder through black pepper, and sauté for 1 minute.

Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree soup to desired texture. Stir in the minced cilantro if using.

Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. I found I didn't have to add any salt as the Better Than Bouillon concentrate I made the broth with had plenty. Serve with cornbread (recipe to follow).

This could also be made in a crock pot. Saute the vegetables first, add everything to the crock pot, and cook on low for a few hours.

Adapted from a recipe at AllRecipes.com.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A message from the Easter B!

Hope everyone has a hoppin' day- weather is gorgeous in the mid-A for the holiday weekend.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chikin soup for the rattled soul

Here we are with winter having come and blessedly departed with little more than a feeble attempt at winter-ness, and a spring shaping up to be one of the more pleasant ones in recent memory. I should be dancin'.

Unfortunately, for over a month now I've had my grumble panties on, due to a recent experience with Microsoft involving their new operating system, which I swore I would never buy, as I was bound and determined to switch to Ubuntu (I may still be Microsoft-free some day, just not yet).

I weakened and put Windows 7 Home on my aging desktop computer in November 2011, and I hate to admit it but really, they did something right this time. I actually LIKE this iteration. Everything was fine until February 19.

When Microsoft decided I wasn't genuine anymore. Excuse me?

I was genuine for over three months: activation went fine, updates went fine, everything went fine. Until February 19. I tried to get a response from Microsoft for a month, and finally talked to someone in Uzbekistan (I think) today who actually gave me some information. And although my accent didn't always understand his accent, eventually we got to an answer.

The seller blocked my product key because I returned the product. Excuse me again?

I'm not quite sure how exactly you would return a download, but for some reason this seller decided I did so. At least that's what Microsoft is telling me. So now I have a second email in to the seller (forgot to mention before that I did contact them as soon as it happened, and got no response). We shall see if this begets a response.

So you know what happens when your product key gets blocked? Well, you still have some semblance of 'use' of your computer, with lots of adventures thrown in. Your desktop wallpaper reverts to black, your computer crashes frequently, and you drink even more wine than normal. So given that I'm pretty much out of my Goth stage and would prefer not to have black wallpaper, I am keeping my fingers crossed that this seller ponies up and sprinkles the genuine dust on me again.

And that leads me to the recipe for today. Which falls squarely in my repertoire of things you don't really need a recipe for. Even though I am bird free, I love me a good chikin noodle soup when the world is rattling my cage. Here's how I've been getting unrattled.

Also, please don't mind the crappy photo, the soup tastes a lot better than it looks here. I grabbed this shot at work under fluorescent lights with splashes all over the bowl because I was madly shoveling soup in my face while working, and I hadn't taken a decent picture at home. My keyboard is pretty gross looking, but the soup? This one always taste like more.

Chikin Noodle Soup

1 Tbs. Earth Balance margarine or olive oil
8 oz. Trader Joe's Chicken-less Strips, or similar seitan strips, homemade if you have some on hand

1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

6 cups water
2 Tbs. vegan chicken-style broth paste or powder (I used Better Than Bouillon Vegan Chicken Broth concentrate, and it is REALLY good), enough for six cups
2 bay leaves
salt to taste (if broth is not salted)
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped (I forgot it, but use some if you have it)
4 oz. small pasta shapes (~1 cup), such as farfalline (seen here) or small shells

Heat the margarine or oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Add the veggie strips and sauté to brown a bit, about 5 minutes. Remove strips to a small bowl or plate and set aside.

If necessary, add more margarine or oil to the pan and sauté onion through garlic for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are beginning to soften.

Add the water, broth paste/powder, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the veggie strips, parsley, and pasta. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until pasta is just al dente. Add salt (if necessary), and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Inspired by a recipe at Chow Vegan.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Get yer Irish on

Though I tried to get a potluck going on at work this week to celebrate St. Patty's Day, somehow it fell through the cracks. We ended up with donuts, green cookies, and my contribution of Colcannon. Kind of an unusual potluck, agreed, but hopefully we will all be on the same page next year and people will actually be NOTIFIED that we are having a potluck.

Growing up, I only remember having corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. Must be because that's what Dad's mother made when he was growing up (my Mom swore Dad would not eat anything his mother didn't make). So somehow I got a wild hair this year, and decided to make an Irish dish for St. Patty's, choosing Colcannon because A.) I love potatoes, and B.) I love potatoes. But I don't mind me some greens either. I've made mashed potato casserole thingies on many occasions that involved spinach and onions, and have loved them every time, but OMG - potatoes, leeks, and kale win hands down over any other combination I've ever tried before.

This is yet another score that will become a permanent part of the recipe files, so why didn't I ever eat or make this before? Colcannon has only been around for at least three hundred years, and like many other simple, frugal country dishes, is brain-dead simple to make, and impossibly delicious. I'll be feelin' me Irish more frequently in the future, I can tell already.


3 lbs. (about 6 medium-large) russet potatoes , peeled and chopped in about 2" chunks

8 oz. chopped kale (or other greens of choice), trimmed of tough stems

1 large leek, halved lengthwise, washed of debris, sliced in ½ " pieces (about 1½ - 2 cups)
4 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 cup milk (I use unsweetened soy milk)
¼ cup Earth Balance margarine or similar fat
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
½ tsp. pepper, or to taste
¼ tsp. ground mace or nutmeg (optional)
2 Tbs. minced herbs, such as chives and parsley

Place potatoes in a large pan with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place kale in the bottom of a steamer in an inch or two of water. Place the steamer basket above the kale, add the leeks and garlic, cover, and bring water to a simmer. Steam until the vegetables are tender.

When potatoes are tender, drain and return to the pan on medium-low heat, stirring a bit to remove excess water.

Mash the potatoes, stir in the cooked vegetables, and then add milk through seasonings and herbs. Blend everything gently and heat through before serving.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

And the winner is...

Not me. The chili cookoff mentioned in the last post had 12 entries, 3 of them vegetarian! I was impressed. Mine didn't win (it was adapted from a recipe here), but frankly it wasn't very good that day. I did it in the crockpot overnight, but something happened to the veggie sausage during the lengthy cooking period . It almost tasted bitter (but it got burned a little on the surface, too).

Note to self: do not use veggie sausage next time, and do not crockpot overnight. Four hours on low would have been plenty.

The second and third days it was a whole different animal. About a tenfold improvement, so I think the bitter edge mellowed out with resting. But it really didn't need the sausage anyway, as I also used veggie crumbles, so here is the winning (at my house anyway) version.

I wouldn't change anything else, except for maybe a bit more chile powder next time. The last bowl had the most heat, naturally, because it infused the longest; the problem was I forgot to take a picture of ANY of the bowls. So pictured instead is my fave chile powder, ground at home from whole dried New Mexico chiles. It beats out any chile powder I have ever purchased commercially.

To make your own homemade chile powder, just break well dried chiles into small pieces and whirl in a spice grinder a little at a time. But don't stick your face in the cloud of chile dust when you open the grinder (why did I think that was a good idea?)!

Chili with Red Wine
At least 8 servings

2 Tbs. oil

2 cups diced onion
2 cups diced sweet pepper
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos, minced

12 oz. ground veggie crumbles

2 Tbs. chile powder (such as New Mexico; I will probably try a little more with the next batch as New Mexico chiles are not way up there on the heat scale)
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1 Tbs. cocoa powder
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
2 bay leaves

1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup Pinot Noir or similar red wine
2 (15 oz.) cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained, or mix with another good chili bean
4 Tbs. tomato paste

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion through jalapeño, and cook until beginning to soften. Add veggie crumbles and heat through, stirring frequently.

Add chile powder through bay leaves and cook for a minute to coat all ingredients. Stir in tomatoes through tomato paste and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Alternatively, add everything to a crockpot, and cook on low for a few hours).

Uncover and simmer another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the bay leaves. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve with toppings of choice.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Spring, or something like it?

This happens every year. I get all excited when the daffodils start threatening to pop, and the silver maple flowers start falling, and then we get nailed at least a few more times before spring actually arrives.

However, caution was thrown to the wind here at WTM when I put the indoor wintering herb pots back out on the deck a couple of days ago. It's only in the high forties so far this morning and I saw ice in the bottom of a plant pot earlier, but the winter garden gods can just kiss my grass, we're getting near the end.

Today we're doing Dad's 86th birthday at his house and I'm taking a pumpkin spice cake with orange cream cheese frosting based on this recipe. Had a chili cookoff at work yesterday and there's still enough chili (which was adapted from this recipe) for lunches this weekend. So hopefully some recipes will follow shortly.

In the meantime, go out and find yourself some signs of spring!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Back in black

To get back to where we were, before being so rudely interrupted by political posts, this week begat a new nibble meal. For a year or so I've had this recipe for the Baja Fresh (BF) dark salsa clone from the Top Secret Recipes guy (I bought it from him, but it's also all over the internet if you do a search).

Not being a particularly rabid salsa fan otherwise, the Salsa Baja at this chain is something I could swim in forever and never tire of. Others have declared the same thing. I stop at BF from time to time and order a veggie tostada just to eat the aforementioned salsa. It is rich, black, and smoky, and not at all sweet. So I finally set about trying to make it at home.

And it worked! My result was not nearly as black as the original (probably because I did not use a grill; time to get the George Foreman out of the storage unit), and it was also thicker, but it was so good I may like mine better. I think what everybody loves is the smokiness, as the ingredients are really just standard salsa fare.

The clone recipe calls for roasting whole, cold tomatoes on a grill, and adding a jalapeno pepper halfway through roasting, turning to blacken all the sides evenly. Per the suggestion of another commenter somewhere on the internet, I cut my tomatoes in half and roasted them in the toaster oven cut side down for about 40-45 minutes, and since the sides weren't getting any blacker after 40, that is probably enough time. I also forgot to get a jalapeno on the last grocery store trip so I used a bit of chipotle chili sauce from canned chilies at the end instead of the roasted jalapeno. NOW we got some smoky goin' on, citizens!

Other departures from the cloned recipe include halving it (which may also explain why it is not as dark as the original), and adding a bit more tomatoes, lime juice, onions, and cilantro. I add more veggies anyway when I get the fixins off the Baja Fresh salsa bar- one portion cup of the salsa baja, one of the salsa fresca, one of chopped cilantro, plus a wedge or two of sliced lime- mix and squeeze and apply lavishly. So if you want a less chunky result more like the original salsa itself at BF, cut the veggie proportions in half and add more water to taste.

Serving suggestion for a super Super Bowl- line a shallow serving bowl or casserole with chips, add a sprinkling of chili beans or some Texas Caviar, then a drizzle of black salsa, a drizzle of nacho sauce, and a few dollops of sour cream (my preference is non-dairy), as well as some extra minced onion and jalapeno for the top. Serve with wedges of fresh lime for squeezing over the bowl.

Black Salsa

3 medium-large tomatoes, cut in half

½ tsp. chipotle chile sauce
1 medium clove garlic, peeled
½ tsp. salt

¾ cup water
1 Tbs. lime juice

1 small-medium tomato (such as a Roma), diced
2 Tbs. onion, diced
2 Tbs. cilantro, minced

Set oven to 450 degree F. Place the three medium-large cut tomatoes cut side down on a baking tray with sides on the upper rack of the oven (a toaster oven works fine and saves energy). Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until the skins are very charred.

Allow tomatoes to cool a bit until you can comfortably handle. Add roasted tomatoes (with any liquid) through salt to a blender, and puree on high until thoroughly smooth. Add water and lime juice and blend again on high for 30 seconds.

Pour the mixture into a bowl. Add the diced tomato, onion, and cilantro, fold in gently, and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate a few hours to blend flavors.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Did you post your question yet?

Sorry this blog has gotten political and partisan recently but I hope to remedy that soon. The SOTU (State of the Union address) is tonight, did you post your question? Whether Democrat, Republican, Independent, or Plaid, don't miss your opportunity.

Here's mine:

President Obama, thank you for this opportunity. As a Democrat and taxpayer, I support swifter action to reign in excess spending in a responsible manner. Please outline some of the programs/functions we can streamline to reduce duplicative function.
ceblakeney, Annapolis, MD

Saturday, January 21, 2012


To celebrate the new year and the current presidential campaign excesses season, without driving ourselves off a cliff or to a monastery, let us pause and reflect on some of the challenges we are facing in the modern u. s. of a. One of them being the current, unending, debilitating, and execrable debate about health care. Or perhaps the more correct phrase would be sick care.

Used to be people went to the doctor when necessary, and did not need health insurance to be able to do so. When did it become impossible to afford a simple doctor visit? When we started expecting somebody else to fix the results of our lifestyles, that's when.

I do not advocate expecting somebody else to fix the results of our lifestyles. And I did not care for all of the components of the legislation the party opposing Barack Obama is trying to disembowel. The desirable components I do support are the ones that give access to all of us, no matter our station in life. The undesirable components are those that ensure insurance companies will continue to profit from our inability to manage our own lifestyles, through mandatory insurance requirements. Cha-ching!

However, this legislation certainly did get the opposing party's attention, didn't it?

Where was that attention when I, and many millions of others, were going to work every day, paying our mortgages and other debts, and contributing the best we were able, while not making enough to cover the insurance premiums, and therefore being locked out of the general sick care system? This situation has been going on for decades, so where was the attention? Seems like unless our success mirrored that of certain presidential candidates, we weren't invited. And in my 54 years, I have never taken a scrap of welfare outside of my tax deductions (OK, welfare by another name) which don't hold a candle to those of the average "successful" presidential candidate. So no, I wasn't living on the taxpayer's dime (but there was the occasional bail-out from my parents).

My own solution was to live my life as best I could in order to not require services from the sick care industry. I was young, and relatively bulletproof, and the adoption of a vegetarian diet no doubt helped (but I won't be surprised if there is blow-back from some in the non-veg contingent).

Eventually I scratched and crawled my way through the gauntlet of higher education to complete a couple of college degrees and land a position with an independent state agency (self-funded; a fee-for-service agency of the state of MD) where I can more effectively support myself, contribute to the well-being of my state, and where my employer picks up 80% of my sick care premiums. If I were an independent contractor in a similar position, with a similar salary, the total premium would be far higher than what it is now, and I would not be able to pay it.

Being older now, and not as bulletproof, there have been a lot of doctor visits over the past couple of years. Probably more than in the combined previous thirty+ years of my adult life. Maybe because I let a whole lot of health issues slide that should have been addressed years ago. Walking in the door of my sick care provider now costs at LEAST a hundred dollars, often more; my copay is only fifteen of that hundred due to being enrolled in an insurance plan.

Which several million people in this country still cannot access, and may never be able to, because they've never been considered important enough to be included in the system before now.

So to end the sermon, let's take a peek at this video and consider our own lifestyles, and perhaps take some steps to eliminate the need for the health care legislation we have apparently forced ourselves into, and which some oppose. Time to pay attention.

And a shout out to the Yellow Rose of Texas, Joanna, for the link. My sincerest thanks, and sorry it's preceded by such a downer post.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


There was a fleeting brush with reasonable weather last week that I thought was supposed to last more than a day or two, but as is usual in this area, if you count on anything related to the weather, you are a silly fool. Temps are hovering around freezing, not unusual for much of the country in January, but still not welcome here.

Plus, given the weird sinus infection that popped up this past couple of weeks (it felt like my teeth were going to explode) and now has me on an antibiotic , I'm not drinking any wine so as not to mess up the effectiveness of the drug. So let me tell you buddy, this weather had REALLY bad timing.

Good excuse to make chowdah. This one is not the prettiest face in the crowd, sorry- it looks a little dingy, and frankly, kinda green. The finished product would have been much more attractive, I think, if the mushrooms were sauteed separately, and then added after the puree step, but the results would still be yum no matter how you smashed em'. Potatoes and corn and mushrooms and onions and carrots and garlic. How could you possibly go wrong? Absolutely delish.

I tried this initially without adding flour for thickening, thinking that the partial pureeing would thicken things up nicely, but it didn't work. I know you're supposed to mix thickening agents with cold water, but just removing some of the hot liquid from the soup and blending with the flour worked fine (wouldn't work with cornstarch though, if that is your thickener of choice- use cold liquids only).

I didn't use veggie sausage this time, but if you want an even more substantial bowl, brown up a little bit and add right before serving.

Potato, Mushroom, and Corn Chowder

2 Tbs. Earth Balance butter or oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups peeled, diced boiling potato such as Yukon Gold (~2 medium)
1½ cups corn kernels
4 cups vegan chicken-style broth
2 Tbs. vegan bacon-style bits (optional)
½ tsp. poultry seasoning

2 Tbs. flour

2 Tbs. nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tsp. salt, to taste
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Optional: 4 oz. sliced veggie sausage

Heat butter or oil in a large pot and cook onion through garlic until just tender.

Stir in potato through poultry seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Scoop about a quarter cup of soup broth into a small bowl, add the flour, stir until it is very well blended, and return to the pot.

Add nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper to taste. Remove a cup or so of chowder, puree in a blender, and return to the pot (or just run an immersion blender around the pot a bit). Stir well, cooking for a few minutes to thicken, and serve.

Variation: Brown 4 oz. sliced veggie sausage over medium heat, and stir into chowder right before serving.

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...)