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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ho Ho Ho! To all

When the holidays have us up against the wall, those with less than stellar organization get motivated. Just came back from the holiday shopping trip (yes I did it all on Christmas Eve) and I'm not sure there will be any cooking tonight. Maybe, but no promises. However I'll post my new favorite main dish type "roast", a turkey-style seitan that others have been developing for several years and I just started trying this year.

Didn't do it for Thanksgiving, and probably won't do it tomorrow (nobody else in my family would be interested) but I've made it a couple of times in between and it is now a staple. This was so reminiscent of turkey I got a little freaked out.

VeganDad has done a few incarnations of turkey seitan, Felicity at Thrifty Living has done one too, and there are many others floating 'round on the web, but until the price of veggie lunchmeats started hitting the stratosphere, I hadn't tried my hand. Now I'm a convert.

This recipe is easy (although it takes a while to cook), slices really well, tastes really good, and can be used as a special occasion dish, as deli slices, and for stew or pot pie. I'm actually going to make the next batch to try in a recipe Elise recently posted on Simply Recipes for Curry Turkey Salad. Vegetarians need recipes that use up holiday leftovers too, you know! (Far as I'm concerned, people, let's cut straight to the pot pie or sandwich options- who needs a centerpiece.)

The seitan I usually make never included tofu, but after looking at ThriftyLiving's recipe, I gave it a go, and it does make for a more tender result. I changed ingredients and quantities somewhat (less tofu, more gluten, also added chickpea flour) to keep it a little more on the firm side, and used poultry seasoning instead of individual dried seasonings. It seems to strike a nice balance between firm and tender, meaning it should hold up in a more liquidy recipe.

I went VeganDad's route, steaming and then baking, but per some advice he gave for one of his roasts, baked only for 30 minutes to avoid a too-dry result. Also I made this rather slender (about 3") to ensure even cooking throughout, but the traditional method is to make it more of a small roast-sized diameter, about 4" or so.

(Update 1/10/10- just made it again today in a 4" roast size, and it cooked through fine in the same amount of time.)

So whatever is on your plate tomorrow, I wish everyone a glad heart, a warm house, and a full tummy!

Turkey Style Seitan

Makes a 26 oz. loaf

¼ cup finely ground almonds (I use a spice grinder for the finest grind)
8 oz. soft or silken tofu, crumbled (if you use extra-firm you will need more water)
3 tsp. broth powder (or amount required for 2 cups broth)
1 Tbs. soy sauce
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup onion, minced, or 2 tsp. onion granules
1 large clove garlic, minced, or 1 tsp. garlic granules
¼ cup chickpea flour
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1½ tsp. dried poultry seasoning
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1¼ cups vital wheat gluten (I use a 6.5 oz. box of Hodgson Mill)

Place ground almonds and crumbled tofu in a blender. Place the broth powder in a measuring cup, adding the soy sauce and enough water to make ½ cup. Stir well and place in the blender.

Add remaining ingredients to blender except gluten. Blend until smooth. Empty the mixture into a large mixing bowl, and blend in gluten until well combined.

Knead the dough briefly to make sure the ingredients are well incorporated, and form into a loaf about 3" to 4" thick. Allow it to rest while setting up and bringing water to boil in a steamer.

Wrap the loaf in a double thickness of aluminum foil, to prevent it from bursting out during steaming and baking. Twist the ends like tootsie rolls.

Steam 50 minutes over simmering water, turning over after 25 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°F at the same time.

Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes, turning over after 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the loaf to cool a bit before unwrapping.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Maybe you're not from Texas

But you can pretend you are with Texas Caviar at your next soirée.

Wow. Why did I not know about this before? This has to be one of the all-time greatest nibble foods that has ever appeared on this planet, and it's completely veggie, and I'd never heard of it.

Just proves that WTM needs to get out more.

After a version of this recipe appeared at one of the multitude of baby showers we had this year at work (thanks Stephanie!) I got the recipe (now fondly known as "the bean thing"), then did some web surfing, and adjusted to taste for submission at Thanksgiving.

My 80+ year old father, who is not enamored of anything "weird" (i.e., his mother never made it), was kneeling in front of the coffee table, madly scooping this onto chips before the Thanksgiving feast commenced. What you see here is the last of the bowl, very well drained just to get a picture before I ate the last few scoops- a fresh batch will be juicier and much more photogenic.

Can't wait to try this next year with home grown ingredients (actually, the jalapeno was- and there WILL be cilantro in 2010).

Texas Caviar

15 oz. can shoepeg or yellow corn, drained and well rinsed
15 oz. can black eyed peas, drained and well rinsed
15 oz. can black beans, drained and well rinsed (or use an additional can of black-eyed peas)
15 oz. can petite diced tomatoes, well drained
½ cup bell pepper, finely diced
½ cup red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno, minced, and seeded if desired
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 - 4 Tbs. cilantro leaves, slivered

¼ cup olive or sunflower oil
2 - 4 Tbs. red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 - 4 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper

Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Mix dressing ingredients thoroughly until the sugar is dissolved.

Pour dressing over ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate for at least an hour, stirring occasionally to distribute dressing.

Serve with tortilla chips or over crisp torn greens and tortilla strips.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Let us now praise famous squash

Or, winter begins. The famed Galeaux d'Eysines from this post made it to the soup pot after all. Said pot will undoubtedly be busy this season.

As soup is about my favorite making-while-drinking-wine meal, an inordinate amount of soup recipes pass through the WTM kitchen. And although lots of people can chop, season, simmer, and serve their way to 30 minute soup, in my case it tends to become more of an off-Broadway production in 3 acts. Which is why dinner frequently ends up being at 11 p.m.

I've got the little white bowl routine down (mise-en-place anyone?) but it still takes far longer than any of the cookbooks or websites will 'fess up to. Guess that's what I get for not having a staff. (Repeat after me: Martha has a staff. They fill the little white bowls. That is why it only takes her 30 minutes to make soup.)

The recipe originated from a few places, as usual (see Sara Moulton's recipe for a jumping off point, and also Robin Robertson's). Coconut milk adds the richness that might otherwise be supplied by heavy (dairy) cream, and I adore it.

Winter Squash Soup

1 or 2 large winter squash, to yield about 3½ cups cooked and drained puree
Vegetable oil for coating pan
1 large onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. curry powder
2 Tbs. Earth Balance or other non-hydrogenated margarine
3 cups light broth
14 oz. can of coconut milk
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
2 Tbs. sugar or maple syrup
1 tsp. salt, to taste
½ tsp. pepper, to taste

Cut squash in half (or in quarters, if large), and remove seeds. Arrange squash cut side down in an oiled roasting pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until very tender.

Allow to cool. Scoop the flesh into a colander to drain a bit. Reserve about 3½ cups of the cooked, drained puree, and refrigerate any remaining puree for another use (like pancakes!)

Meanwhile, as the squash is baking, heat the margarine in a saucepan over medium low heat, and cook the onion through curry powder for 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

Add the broth, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add 3½ cups drained squash pulp to the saucepan and blend well. Puree the mixture in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth, or use a hand blender directly in the saucepan, for a more rustic (i.e. chunkier) result.

Blend in coconut milk, cider vinegar or lemon juice, and sugar or maple syrup. Add salt and pepper to taste, and adjust other seasonings as desired.

Return the soup to the pan and simmer over moderate heat, adding more broth if necessary to achieve the desired consistency, and heat through.

Monday, November 30, 2009

And now for something completely different

...a project I actually completed! (Well, 95%, but who's counting.)

In the last post, I listed some of my to-do list for the garden cold season, and by crikey here's one that came to fruition. It is about the sloppiest example of wood cutting anyone could ever hope to perpetrate, but what the muck, we have decided that this is just the prototype for greater things to come.

I ripped the majority of the pieces with a jigsaw blade as dull as dirt, late at night, and with no clamps to hold the stock, so we have a rather free form example of the original hod (thanks RunnerDuck!) I set out to replicate. Still, I think it will be very functional and if I don't carry bricks around in it, may last for a few years.

The original design has handle supports attached to the outside of the hod ends, but due to some airheaded measuring, I cut the dowel handle too short. Not a problem; did some 'redesign' and attached the handle supports to the inside of the hod ends. (See this photo for a much cooler example of another handle option.)

Guess what- I like the 'booboo' design even better! Truth be told, I did consider attaching the handles on the inside before I goofed on the measurements. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.) The inside attachment doesn't reduce the interior space very much, but does reduce the outside dimensions if you have storage considerations (as I do).

My final measurements are a little larger than RunnerDuck's, due to going with a 1 x 8 instead of a 1 x 6- 7 3/8 " high x 9 7/8 " wide x 17" long (basket dimensions, not including handle height- that is about 13"). I'm very happy with the extra 2" depth. This is still relatively lightweight since it's made from pine.

That's right, cheapo pine was used here, not the cedar recommended by RunnerDuck (mainly because Homey Deepo did not have any cedar), so I applied a tung oil finish for some water repellance. Right before I took the pic here, the hod was out on the deck and it started to rain. The water beaded up just fine, so I think if it is not left to fend for itself day and night in the cold cruel (outside) world, and is given reasonable care, the little basket will hopefully be around for many seasons.

Another modification was to use 1/4" wire mesh instead of 1/2". My reasoning was that herbs (as well as smaller vegetables, like little hot peppers) could be gathered more easily in a smaller meshed hod, with no 'slipping through the cracks'. The only caveat is that the wire gauge of the 1/4" is also a little thinner. If you want the sturdiest construction, go with the 1/2" mesh. You could always line the basket with a cloth to keep the little stuff from falling out.

One last mod, which has not been applied yet, will be to add 'feet' under each end, creating a little air space underneath the mesh, and theoretically protecting it from getting cut up. The plan is to rip two pieces, 7/8" square x 6" long, and attach them to the bottom of each end piece.

As for the savings over a ready-made garden hod, if you don't count the ~$38.00 I spent on tools- spade bit, jigsaw blades, carpenter's glue, and clamps- the wood and mesh ran about $15.00, and there is just barely enough wood to make one more hod. So much for pinchin' the pennies.

There may still be an opportunity to grab an artistic photo of the new garden basket brimming over with 'plenty'- never mind the fact that it will probably consist of nothing but swiss chard and jalapenos- hey, doesn't everybody still have jalapenos growing at the end of November?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

That's a wrap

What do you do when you know there is no longer any hope of squeezing another cracked tomato, or minuscule eggplant, or puny pepper out of the utterly failed garden? Gather up everything that you did squeeze out and pile it in a bowl so you can pretend you actually had a harvest. There. Denial fixes everything, and I feel much better now.

Due to Hurricane what's her name, anything in my garden that was still clinging to life by a thread has been drowned, ripped off the vine, or otherwise molested. There is currently a large branch from the stupid silver maple impaled in the middle of the beds and the leaves have created a wet mat of slug heaven (why don't hurricanes do the slugs in? Not fair.)

Sunday looks like it's going to be a great day for being outside and taking care of some of the destruction; problem is I volunteered my little self to help out with a booth at the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, for the entire day. (I am an idiot). The first two days of the festival were pretty much a loss due to the storm remnants that ripped through the Mid-A this week, so I guess they deserve to have one good day since it is something that's planned all year. Just wish I hadn't opened my big mouth and volunteered!

The fall cleanup is going to end up getting done in January if I don't start scheduling things a little better. I have been doing some inside stuff, but there's plenty still left on the inside to-do list. Which is why it's always good to keep a list of inside tasks for when the weather outside is frightful; you feel like you're not a complete layabout. Some suggestions:

- Bagging up the seeds you've been drying, if you are prone to collecting way more than you will ever possibly be able to grow, like me. I had umpty billion little dishes of this and that seeds waiting patiently to be put to bed, and many of them are now snugged away in their little envelopes. Not all, but some (hey, I'm a great starter, but a very poor completer, what can I say. Short attention span.)

- Recycling all of the garden catalogs from the past year. I know they're pretty, but they have to go. Go open up your recycling bin right now, gentle reader, and cast them. The 2010's have started to arrive.

- Also recycling all of the oddball containers you've been hoarding that you thought might be good for growing stuff (hey! This is a good size tray/cup/box, I should save this...) No one on the planet needs hundreds of yogurt containers; don't know why I thought I did. But I'm not giving up my mushroom trays, no-sir-ree.

- Doing inventory on the garden equipment. What's broken? Can it be fixed? If yes, start on that, if no, then throw. What do you have too many of? Get rid of the multiples. You do not need six trowels, I'm sorry but you just don't. What might you be hankerin' for next year, that maybe you could make yourself? In this economy, the $40 or $50 garden hod is but a sweet dream, so I have decided to build my own, and the whole project can be made in my back room. I'm thinking there might be a few more do-it-yourself projects waiting in the wings as the winter looms.

- Doing inventory on the garden seeds. I actually already did this a few months ago, but it's a good one for anyone who hasn't already. Those twelve year old melon seeds are not going to germinate, buckaroo, so toss 'em. Pull all of the seed packs out and go through them ruthlessly, figure out what's still good and get rid of the rest. That way you know what you need when ordering season starts, and you don't order way too much and end up with duplicates like I always do (how'd I get four packs of Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach? Not doing inventory, that's how).

- Planning next year's beds. If you are a strict rotator, figure out where everybody can go so as not to invite pesties to multiply. I have never actually been one to pay all that much attention to whether the tomatoes are growing in the same spot as last year, but then the garden was sort of non-existent for a couple of years so don't take me as a good example. Right now my planning is looking like the front yard will be getting ripped up and the back yard left to the damn silver maple and its branches of death.

Wrapping up the garden year is sort of mournful in a way, but then I remember there will be seeds needing to be started in just eight weeks (I'm going to have broccoli and cabbage next year, dammit, if it kills me.) That's when my season starts. In the meantime, there's garden hods to build, and broken stuff to get rid of, and vegetable beds to plan...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Oh, what a tangled Web

Well hey, kids- your humble blogger was recently done the honor of having a chat with Susan Harris, a local garden guru, who also has a gig over at the Homestead Gardens blog, as well as being the producer of the world famous Garden Rant blog, and it was a pleasure. They (i.e., the Homestead Gardens blog) are looking for local gardener/cook/bloggers- that means you! I was their first local featured blogger, and hopefully there will be many more to come.

A new venture, the Homestead Gardens blog is sponsored by the venerable local garden business that has been operating in Maryland for over 35 years. In addition to being a pretty mind-boggling place to buy plants/seeds/tools/other garden chotchkies, if you haven't been there during the holidays (yikes! are they almost here?), well I'm sorry, but you just haven't been.

So about the blog. I actually stumbled upon them because Rita Calvert (also at the Homestead Garden blog) stumbled upon me, asking in an email if I'd been to Green Drinks Annapolis, a project under the umbrella of AnnapolisGreen. I had not, but will be checking out some of their events shortly, always on the lookout for forward thinking ventures.

One of the reasons I went squash hunting last weekend (see previous post) was because I'd seen a curry recipe Rita posted that I thought might be interesting in a veggie incarnation- just hadn't decided yet if I wanted to do seitan or tofu as the protein component instead of goat, so who knows, the squash might still end up in a soup (if I can ever stop looking at it; it's so pretty I don't have the heart to break into it yet. Must grow this next year.)

But anyway, one thing leads to another, and before you know it, SNAP! their web has you in it's craw, but it's OK because now you have a mess o' new friends with similar interests, and great new places to go eat and drink until you just can't stand it anymore.

Talk about other people's gardens. Everyone else's this year looked better than mine. But that's normal. Since the weekend is almost here, you must go check out some of your local garden resources before the snow starts flying, and let's all start scheming on next year's garden.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

OPG (Other People's Gardens)

As it turned out, the nine year old was the man with the information I needed. "And which variety is this?" I asked the more 'mature' gentleman behind the table at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. "Here's who can tell you" he said, as he pulled his (I think it was) grandson over to address the customer's question.

"Gal LOW dee ay see NAY" he told me, very carefully enunciating. "Oh, it's Italian?" I asked. "No, French." Must have asked him at least twice more what the name was, but eventually the old brain stored it, and I promised to look it up when I got back home. Three dollars went to the nine year old, and one of the most beautiful winter squashes I've ever seen went home with me.

It was the runt of the litter, so to speak, as it's remaining brethren were much larger and had much more impressive bumps ("those are the sugar caps!" my young instructor corrected, when I referred to them as 'peanuts'). That morning's quest had been to obtain a butternut-type to use either in a curry or soup (hadn't decided yet) so I didn't need a giant, and Grandad assured me this was suitable for my needs. And asked for a report the next time I came back. So I innocently went to the Farmer's Market and come back with homework, which means I can't just stick it on the counter and admire it for the next several months.

Once everything was unpacked at home I set to finding out what this new-to-me critter was. Remembering the bit about the French origins, I started googling Gallo plus Acine plus French plus heirloom plus squash, in various combinations, and bingo! after some twists and turns there she was- 'Galeux d'Eysines'. And of course everybody else in the know in the Heirloom Vegetable Community has grown and loved this variety for years, and numerous catalogs devoted to heirloom varieties carry it. Respect to you, dudes, as well as to my producer.

Galeux d'Eysines hails from Eysines, a city in the southwest of France. Seed Saver's Exchange says it is "The most popular squash that we offer". Most descriptions I've read put it in the 10-20 pound range, but mine is more like 6 pounds. Which is fine with me, and that works out to $.50 per pound for my score this weekend. Most sites also concur with my producer that it is great for soups as well as roasting.

So will it be soup, or will it be curry, or will it be...

Sorry, the homework assignment is ongoing. In the meantime, here are a few sources I found if you're interested in including this in next year's garden. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I currently have to depend on Other People's Gardens (i.e., the Farmer's Market), not my own, if I want to have Really Cool Veggies such as this.

Next year, though, there's always next year.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Gourmet Seed
J.L. Hudson Seeds
Seed Saver's Exchange
Territorial Seed

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is it soup yet?

There hasn't been a lot of elaborate cooking going on here recently (not that it's EVER elaborate), it's been more like boil the pasta and throw some Parmenon on top. After slathering on the Earth Balance. But with the waning days of autumn (if I may indulge in a little poetic waxing) the kitchen has become far more attractive than it was during the last despicable part of the Mid-Atlantic summer. Which means it's time for soup!

So here is not a soup recipe (maybe later) but the latest version of homemade veggie broth mix to get said soup started. There have been a few times in the past when I actually did a veg stock from scratch, but let's face it, that is not a common pursuit in my kitchen. First of all I can't stand the idea of boiling vegetables to death and then throwing them away (which most broth/stock recipes tell you to do). I think I really prefer to start out with something more of a seasoning base and then make sure the main ingredients carry the show.

I've mentioned before that there is a standard go-to recipe I use for an instant chicken-style soup base (from Joanne Stepaniak), but recently (well, today) there's been some tweaking and influence on that standard after looking at Bryanna Clark Grogan's Vegan Chicken Style Broth Powder.

I'd never included soy in my concoction, it was pretty much the nutri yeast base with salt and dried herbs. But I riffed on Bryanna's version by using soy milk powder instead of soy protein powder, and the soy milk definitely adds a 'roundness' to the broth. It was good just for sippin'! (Note that the soy milk powder can be left out completely and you will still have a good broth mix.)

Bryanna also uses sugar in her mix, which I'd never done before, and frankly I was suspicious. I didn't want a sweet result, but after making up a bit of broth with this hybrid recipe, I can say there was not a noticeable sweetness, again probably just a rounding out of the flavors.

Methinks this is the new standard. Plus it is another seasoning-type recipe that fits nicely in a 1 lb. recycled peanut butter jar. Hoo boy.

Light Instant Broth Mix

1½ cups nutritional yeast flakes
4 Tbs. powdered soy milk (optional; leave out for a clear broth)
3 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. onion granules
1 Tbs. garlic granules
1 Tbs. paprika
1 Tbs. dried parsley
1 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. dried dill or cilantro, or a combination
½ tsp. dried sage
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. freshly ground white pepper

Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender until finely powdered, and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

To make broth, use 1½ tsp. per cup of water, or more to taste.

Option: for a mushroom-style broth, add a tablespoon or two of dry mushroom powder to the other ingredients in the bulk recipe before blending.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Breaking the rules

This lonely little pepper pod came from a plant which came from a seed which came from a plant ('Black Pearl' ornamental pepper) I paid way too much money for last year. Although I got several seedlings this year that looked like the parent plant from last year, the one this pod came from had normal green leaves instead of the almost black leaves characteristic of the variety. It did have a completely black fruit though, which as seen in the photo is halfway to red at this point. Hopefully I left it on the plant long enough for the seeds to be viable.

The usual pod shape on 'Black Pearl' is pretty much round, but this one had a little bit of narrowing at the end so I thought what the muck, let's see what it makes next year. 'Black Pearl' is supposed to be stable, since it has PVP (Plant Variety Protection) status, but the flower from last year's plant that provided the seed for the current year's plant probably had relations with another pepper plant, as the current plant has 'normal' leaves.

Even though the conventional rule is don't save seeds from hybrids cause you don't know what you're gonna get, sometimes that's the whole point. I'd like to see if maybe an individual in the next generation gets some variegation in the leaves, while still producing the inky black fruit. Typically I'll germinate the rule-breakers and see how they grow out for a while. If they are not interesting they can always join the compost pile.

For a really striking ornamental 'black' pepper plant which does have variegated leaves, I prefer a variety called 'Royal Black African'. I got the seed from Amishland Seeds, grew it out for the first time last year, and it was stunning, just as showy as the 'Black Pearl' but with green, violet, and white streaking in some of the leaves, and more pointed fruit (which I like better than round). Even with a late start from seed it caught up with the 'Black Pearl' (which was at least 18" tall at time of purchase) in a few months. The plant in the photo below is still fairly small so there aren't as many dark leaves yet; don't take it as representative of a mature plant. When the plant is mature, the dark leaves dominate and it is much more noteworthy.

The seedlings this year were from my own saved seed, and I think there is even more streaking this year, but since the little darlings are pretty much growing in the shade they are probably not normal specimens. Still pretty though.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange carries a variety called 'Royal Black', and from the website description of the variety I think it's the same as 'Royal Black African', or very, very close to it (the leaves in the website photo appear to be green, however, not dark and streaked, per the accompanying description).

So the season is winding down, the garden was subject to a humiliating lack of sun, and the roller coaster weather helped not one little bit.

Can't wait 'til next year!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inventory time, and lessons learned

Besides the obvious answer to the question, "What vegetables can you grow in the shade?" (not many), this season brought a few surprises/ successes, and had the gardener been a little more attentive, the success rate would probably have been a smidge bit better.

Insufficient sun is not going to net you big honkin veggies. However, more modestly sized varieties, such as the Pizza My Heart pepper, as well as many hot peppers, may struggle along and produce an acceptable yield. The Pizza My Hearts shown here are probably destined for a veggie sausage-and-peppers combo, as they are sweet but can occasionally zing you with a little spiciness.

I had scads of Jalapeños and Cascabellas (well scads for me anyway). Basil, parsley, and the other herbs did OK. The African marigolds went nuts, and the French Dwarfs got nice and bushy with a little time. The Swiss Chard is even growing moderately well, and the lettuce would have done better if it hadn't gotten eaten by the Trombetta di Albenga squash vines, which only made one damn decent squash, but I didn't find it until after ripping up the vines in disgust. The Trombetta had gorgeous, enormous leaves by the way, and made gillions of flowers (which I didn't use- idiot!), and was certainly not the one at fault for being so stingy with the fruit. Trying to grow it with only an hour or so of direct sun a day is cruel and unusual punishment, so it gave me leaves and flowers instead of fruit.

Which brings me to lesson number 1. You can grow leaves in the shade. Most leaves don't care. It's fruit that cares, and will snub you unmercifully by not showing up to your party. Herbs and greens are the mainstay of the kitchen shade garden.

Then lesson number 2. Forget mammoth tomatoes and put your bets on golf ball sized fruits, if you insist on trying to grow tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and the like in shade. I got a few smallish cucumbers and eggplants this season, so next year, if I am unfortunately still here, the plan is to grow only midget varieties.

Lesson number 3. Once the funds are available again (with salary freezes things are pretty tight, like everybody on the planet didn't know that already), hire an arborist and limb up/down whatever I can get away with on the trees on the property.

Lesson number 4. A fall garden may be the best bet for a shaded yard, as the canopy is decreasing and the light increasing, even though the sun is at at a lower angle.

Lesson number 5. Tear up the front yard and put the garden there. It gets a whole THREE hours of sun a day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Before the seeds get into the envelopes below, they have to get out of the seed production units, whatever they may be. Herbs seeds can often be uncooperative due to tiny size, and their tendency to hole up in equally tiny seed capsules/cavities.

Enter another use for one of my (way-too-many) kitchen gadgets. Trying to get Thai basil seeds out of their jackets was really yanking on my carpal tunnel. This mortar with ribbed sides was perfect for rubbing the little suckers out of their hiding places.

The top of the bowl is about 5.5", tapering to a bottom of about 2", so my fingers fit easily inside to roll the seed heads around the sides of the mortar, freeing most of the seeds to drop to the bottom.

I love justifying gadget purchases.

Growing pains

The garden was almost a complete flop this year (well, the marigolds did OK). The shade in the back yard is now so complete the harvest wouldn't feed a family of mice. Sigh.

Still, there are some things going to seed, so what do we do? Waste valuable time making seed envelopes! Instead of working on the house and selling it and moving somewhere that has sun!

The latest incarnation is not exactly a step by step, it's more of a spec sheet for what I currently do to contain the seeds of a meager harvest.

There have been some changes to the original envelope template, most notably cutting a curve into the top of the back section ever so slightly, to make it easier to fold down the top flap, and angling the edges on the side and bottom flaps, also to make for easier folding. The template and specs are provided in Word this time so customizing should be easy peasy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Black pearls

So they aren't anywhere near being black, and there aren't many yet, thanks mostly to a minuscule amount of sun but also a late start, but if I had enough to make a bowlful it would be the most beautiful bunch of 'maters I've ever grown. These are Chocolate Cherries, and finally getting the dusky, velvety, black-brown-red wash I bought the seeds for.

They are rich, sweet, winey, and all the other adjectives that get used for 'black' tomatoes. Just about an inch across, so the perfect cherry size. I was planning on doing a photo while they were still on the vine, but forgot the plan, so here they are hanging on a fence stake instead.

Also growing in the same shaded plot are Japanese Black Trifeles, which get to about 8 oz. or so, a nice medium size. Note: I don't understand why people grow geenormous tomatoes- I can't eat a whole one at one sitting and I hate them after they've been refrigerated. None of the Trifeles, however, were at the right stage of color to include in the photo. I've actually gotten several off the vine already, but most had (as I commented at another site) Sent From Hell cracks. Hey, even the backmost tomato in this pic had a huge crack- that's why it's in the back!

The normally wacky Mid-Atlantic weather stayed true to form this summer- cool later than normal, then instant tropicalness and a drought, then frequent violent death rain for several weeks (ergo Sent From Hell cracks), then no rain for several weeks and much cooler temps. Admittedly, it has been nice to turn off the AC for a while.

So at any rate. Currently I have some cuttings from the shade grown Chocolate Cherry plants growing roots in a pot, to be transplanted in the front yard shortly where there is at least a modicum of sun. I figure we've got better than two months of frost free weather to go, and will try for a last blast of velvety brown lusciousness- or at least enough seeds for next year, when, if I move, I might have a garden in the sun. Yay!

Now it's off to track down a good tomato chutney recipe on ze interwebs...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

That's amoré

There is not a drop of Italian in me but pasta has always been a major food group at my house. One of the other major food groups is Stuff That Goes on Top. And Parmigiano Reggiano from real live cows was at the top of that group for most of my adult life, and as far as I'm concerned is still one of the seven wonders of the world.

When I decided that cows really don't exist just for my pleasure (even though I'm not dairy-free yet), a great sorrow came over my heart. Or something like that. Because I adore Parmigiano Reggianno. And because cows can produce a basic raw ingredient that becomes a wonder of the world, and we can't (Mt. Rushmore and the Sphinx wish they could compete). When considering dairy cheese, and especially the crown jewel of dairy cheese, we may manipulate the main ingredient, yes, but face it, the cow is the star player.

So we flail away, flying in the face of all reason and attempting the impossible even though we know it's absurd. Meat alternatives are not nearly as much of a problem, and other non-dairy cheeses are getting close, but vegan parm remains an elusive holy grail.

But cheer up! Maybe we'll never reach the level of accomplishment of cows, cheese-wise, but we can still crank out a darn good sprinkle now and again. I've been making a simple nuts-and-nutri-yeast combo as a Parmesan stand-in for a couple of years, and frankly, have been pretty happy with it. Tweaking being in the blood though, every batch is preceded by much web-surfing.

The latest tweak included just a bit of citric acid (find it with the canning supplies at your grocer), which I hadn't used before, and I think it's now going to be a standard ingredient. Another site I looked at recommends powdered lemon juice instead of citric acid, but since I don't keep that around I haven't tried it. Dried lemon peel, finely ground, I do keep around, and would probably work as well, so that might replace the citric acid, if that's all you have.

Sesame seeds also went in with the nuts (cashews and pine nuts) in this last batch. The sesame component I'm not so sure about. It was equal parts cashews, pine nuts, and sesame seeds, and I think it was a little too bitter due to the sesame. It was OK, and I'll eat up every bit, but it was not my fave. It's possible the seeds are starting to go south- they've been refrigerated the whole time, but I can't remember when I bought them. However I think it's mostly got to do with the nature of sesame seeds.

Sweetness, such as what you get with cashews and almonds, should be a forward flavor in parm, not bitterness (although you do want an 'edge'). So the latest batch looks like the following recipe. I've added a little miso powder for some tang and 'fermentedness'. I bought mine online but see the next link in this post for a method of drying readily available miso paste to a powder; this is what I will do when my current stock runs out.

Bryanna Clark Grogan includes miso in this recipe, which also uses okara from making soy milk. The Galaxy brand has a soy base for its parm, so Bryanna's okara base should be similar. It's also not as yellow-y as the more nutri-yeast-based toppings, either, so may appeal more to the unwashed masses (i.e., the vegan-fearful).

So, in the spirit of the myriad cutely named commercial parmesan alternatives on the market, I have dubbed mine "Parmenon". Cheesy, huh?

Grated Parmenon Topping
(a.k.a. That's Amoré Sprinkle)

1½ cups nutritional yeast flakes
¾ cup finely ground almonds, cashews, or walnuts, or a combination
2 tsp. salt, to taste
1½ tsp. miso powder, or to taste (optional, try it at least once)
1 tsp. onion granules, or to taste
½ tsp. garlic granules, or to taste
¼ tsp. citric acid

Process or pulse all ingredients in a blender or food processor until thoroughly combined. Adjust seasonings to taste. I tend to be conservative with miso; others may like it a little more assertive. This really adds a rich note to lean or hearty pasta dishes, but I also love it sprinkled on steamed veggies and/or baked potatoes.

Note: this quantity fits snugly in a 1 lb. recycled glass peanut butter jar.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Even without any sun (well almost no sun) there is a little magic starting to happen in the garden. Late, yes, and skimpy, but it's happening.

These are Matina tomatoes, which are supposed to be early, as long as you start them at the right time. The bowl is the same one from the curried carrot soup post, about 5" across, so we are barely out of cherry tomato territory here, as one can see.

In an ideal world (where I am not the gardener) they should probably be 4-6 ounces each. The green ones still on the vine look like will they be closer to the expected size.

The weather has finally turned to the godawful high humidity famous in the Mid-A and will likely hit 100 F tomorrow. Aack.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

From the land of pleasant living

The harvest is underway fast and furious in most parts around the Mid-A, just not here in my garden. I have loads of blossoms that keep dropping off the vines, but no squash/zucchini as of this post. Not to panic!

Zukes are not taking over my particular corner of the planet yet, but are available, so here is my favorite way to prepare the little monsters (which are currently from the farmer's market, until my vines start producing, if that ever happens).

They go great with a Natty Boh or other local brewski, and some local corn (roast it for the best results), which is beginning to take over the planet. Add a classic cucumber salad, and you are pleasantly set.

Chesapeake Bay Zuke Cakes
(Mock Crab Cakes)

Makes 8

Wet ingredients:
2 cups coarsely grated, thoroughly squeezed dry zucchini, unpeeled (about 2 medium; you must squeeze them until they beg for mercy)
1 small onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs. parsley, minced, more to taste
2 egg replacer servings, reconstituted with water (1 Tbs. of dry powder from recipe below, or use a commercial mix)
2 Tbs. vegan mayonnaise
1 Tbs. vegan Worcestershire sauce

Dry ingredients:

2 cups coarse dry bread crumbs
1 Tbs. Old Bay seasoning, more/less to taste (I tend to be generous)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kelp powder, or more to taste, optional, for a "taste o' the sea"

oil, for frying

Combine wet ingredients in a bowl and mix well; do the same with the dry ingredients in another bowl.

Add wet and dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and fold together gently but thoroughly. Form mixture into 8 patties.

Heat 2 Tbs. of oil (or enough to coat the pan) in a skillet over medium-high heat. Fry in batches until golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Add more oil to skillet if necessary during frying.

Drain on paper towels before serving.

Homemade Egg Replacer

1 cup potato starch
¾ cup tapioca flour
2 tsp. baking powder

Blend all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar.

To make one reconstituted egg substitute/serving:
Mix 1 ½ tsp. egg replacer with 2 Tbs. water and blend well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hurry, curry

OK so it's not curry, it's curried carrot soup. Curried carrot and potato soup to be exact, and I ate every drop.

Even though it was a pinch too hot on the first go round (leave out the cayenne pepper if you're only a moderate/medium heat lover, like me), this was really good. Summer soups don't have to be cold, but they've got to be fast.

This is great with naan, my new favorite carb (see previous post).

Curried Carrot and Potato Soup

1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. Earth Balance margarine
1 medium onion, chopped (use a sweet one if you've got it)
2 cloves garlic, minced (more as desired)
1 lb. carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 1 lb.), such as Yukon Gold
6 cups vegetable broth
1 Tbs. Madras curry powder, or other favorite curry
¾ tsp. salt
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ cup cilantro leaves, minced, plus whole leaves for garnish (optional)

Preheat at least a 4 quart pot over medium high heat. Add olive oil through potatoes and saute 5 or 10 minutes. Add vegetable broth and seasonings to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook until vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Using a hand blender, blend until soup is smooth and carrots are fully pureed. Or place in a blender in batches and puree until smooth (this method will yield a silkier result). Return to the pan. Correct seasonings to taste, and stir in cilantro leaves, if using. Garnish individual servings as desired.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tomato topics

Another in what will probably be a long line of pizza posts (pizza being my favorite vegetable). Flatbreads are becoming more popular for pizza bases 'round here as the summer rolls along, and the new favorite for topping is naan, or as it is described on the package from a local Asian grocery, Tandori Nan.

It's not all that far removed from being a pita, which has always been my go-to for a quickie lunch, but it is a bit thicker and sturdier (Hand Stretched for Fluffiness! cries the package) and less likely to become a cracker. Plus it's kind of shaped like a slipper which is more fun than round. Don't ask me why.

I used a 14 oz. can of tomatoes with diced chilies, as tomatoes have not hit their stride here yet, a can of tomato paste, a tablespoon of olive oil, and the usual suspects for seasonings (Italian, minced garlic, minced onion, sugar, and salt). The chilies gave it a proper kick, but if there were rugrats clamoring to be fed I think I would have stuck with plain ol' diced tomatoes, as the chilies might have been too zingy. Topped it with a generous handful of Teese vegan mozzarella, which didn't really melt a lot here, but that could be because the top element in the toaster oven is burned out.

Melted or not, it was down the hatch long before I got the jpeg open for editing. I think Tandoori Nan is about to become a staple- sorry my little pita friends. Now to dig up that recipe I saved a while back for homemade...

Speaking of tomatoes. There are lots of flowers but I don't think any fruits yet. Largely due to someone having a rather nonchalant schedule about planting. But oh well no worries cause most of them are indeterminate so they will be producing for a long time. As much as tomato plants can produce when they are only getting a couple hours of sun a day, anyway.

Update 7/12/09: Yes there were fruits! Just really tiny at the time. They are little green marbles now, and I believe we will have redness by the end of the month.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A wee harvest

It's not much yet. Everything went in late, per the usual non-plan. The radishes and greens were picked last week, the beans this week (look hard! They're in there!)

Waiting in the wings are the tomato plants, which are finally starting to take off, and now need stakes, a couple of tiny little eggplants and jalapenos plumping up, and squash blossoms scheming to take over the world. The Tiger's Eye shelling beans can't decide if they are pole or bush types, and I thought they were bush, so they are a little disheveled after recent storms- but the pods are filling out.

The parsley and basil finally look lovely, but we are far away from self sufficiency just yet. Sure is fun to harvest your own stuff though. Even if it's only a wee bit (bet this salad tips the scales at four ounces!!!)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

BaBaCoo, I Wuv U

In a previous life (when I ate meat), I was never a barbecue fan. Perhaps the generous amounts of dripping grease that came with most BBQ food had something to do with that. But I love grilling, and so decided to try doing a veggie 'chicken' barbecue sandwich after seeing a chik patty over at Vegan Dad's that looked interesting (they have a new baby! Go over there right now and wish congrats).

Turned out very nummy, especially for a first try. Instead of keeping it whole, I sliced it fairly thinly, dunked it in some cheap BBQ sauce, and grilled just a couple minutes on a stovetop grill.

Fast! And it will be even better when I get off my lazy a and make some REAL barbecue sauce (Father's Day is coming up you know...)

Here are my adaptations from the original VeganDad burger recipe. Since I increased the beans, I also increased the flour and oil amounts. If you want kid-sized portions, make 10 or 12 smaller patties instead of 8.

- 1½ cups cooked light beans such as canary (Mayocoba, my new favorite) or white beans
- 1 cup water or veggie broth, more if necessary
- 2-4 Tbs. olive oil (I used 2 Tbs. but may use 4 next time)
- 1 Tbs. soy sauce
- 2 Tbs. chicken-style broth powder (I use the 'All-Season Blend' broth recipe from Jo Stepaniak's "Uncheese Cookbook")
- 2 Tbs. nutritional yeast
- 1¼ cup vital wheat gluten (a 6.5 oz. box of Hodgson’s Mill)
- ½ cup chickpea flour, more if necessary
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. sweet paprika
- ½ tsp. hot paprika
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. freshly ground pepper, more to taste

Prepare a steamer (if it is at least 12" in diameter, these should all fit in one layer). Place beans through soy sauce in a blender and pulse several times for a rough blend. Place the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl, stir in the bean mixture, and knead into a smooth dough.

Shape the dough into 8 burgers (or more if you want smaller burgers).

Place the burgers over a rack in your steamer and steam, covered, for 30 minutes. I use a cheap splatter screen from the dollar store, sans the handle, and place that on top of an open steamer basket in a 12" wide casserole type pan, with about an inch or so of water simmering in the bottom. Nothing sticks to the screen. If you don't want to place the burgers directly on your rack, wrap each one in foil, place on the rack, and then steam. Serve on buns with your favorite fixins. Or slice and brush with BBQ sauce first, and grill for a few minutes on each side before serving.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Having a (re)purpose in life

The garden is still pretty bare. It is amazing how many ways one can put off the grunt work of actual planting.

Here is one of my favorites: stop paying cash money for plant markers and start making your own. This is not new or innovative at all, but I'll waste space on it anyway.

Small yogurt cups (6-8 oz. each) work great for tags for seed starting flats, and you can get at least 8 out of one cup with a fair amount of room for writing (more than those 1/2" wide purchased ones anyway). A 1-lb. margarine tub (such as from Earth Balance, even though it's only 15 oz.), will get you 12 tags. Cut from the top to the bottom of the cup, then cut around the bottom edge to remove the bottom circle. To cut out the desired number of strips (whether it's 8 or 12) after the initial cutting, I usually cut the whole thing in half top to bottom, then in half again, then cut two or three strips from each of the four sections.

I used a larger yogurt container here (from a 24-oz. Whole Soy container) and got 12 tags about 1" wide by 4 1/4" long. A nice size for in the ground. Plus you can use the bottom circle that remains after cutting 12 strips as a shrub tag- just use a hole punch on the edge to put a tie through. If you have quart size containers lying around, you'll get longer tags still.

I never used to point the bottoms but decided to do it on these; they should go into a garden bed a little more easily. If you want no waste at all (see the 'chads' in the glass bowl), don't give them points, they will still work.

Root around in the recycling bin and devise your own way to procrastinate on garden chores!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Got seeds?

Then you need seed envelopes. Admittedly it's too early to really be collecting any seeds yet, but one can always prepare.

Here's a tip of the hat to the hapless chard seedlings that never made it into the ground last year. (Their brethren this year are doing much better, thank you).

Download a PDF (4 envelopes per page) here, or open a new document in your word processor, set to landscape, and the margins to one tenth of an inch (0.1"), and copy the JPEG to the right four times onto the page. If you center everything, including the page layout, the margins will be even all around.

These end up to be about 3" high x 2.25" wide after folding and gluing- fold the side and bottom tabs in first, apply stick glue, and fold the back flap over them to seal. Small, but I've found this to be an almost perfect size for most of my seed collecting. Plus you get four to a page.

I swiped the envelope shape off the web a couple of years ago, then ravaged it in Paint Shop until it suited my needs, and have since tried about a baskillion different labels on the front. Beats paying real money for premades!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cooking the books

Amazon told me my order for Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen and Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Brunch shipped yesterday- yay!

Since the garden is going to have lots of greens, roots, and fruits this season (if I ever get the freakin plants in) and brunch dishes are great for baby showers (of which I have at least two coming up) I am all aflutter.

Please God help me to stop buying cookbooks. Think I need a 12 step program.

Update 5/16/09- arrival! and I promise I am going to actually cook something from these and not just read them in bed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The best laid plans

Now we have to figure out what goes (grows) in the squares.

Each full square is a square foot (like you didn't know that). Each half square on the top and bottom end beds will host herbs or garlic or marigolds or some such little bittle crops. Still working out the details.

The final dimensions ended up to be 18' across by 19' deep. This is not a huge garden by any stretch, but it is the biggest one I've ever attempted. Here's to you, garden gods!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It takes a neighbor

OK so it's probably way late to be digging a (sort of) new garden but that's the way it goes here. The little baby tiller crapped out yesterday, probably due to the five year old gas in it's little tank, so my next door neighbor was kind enough to drag out his tiller and BAM in ten minutes, I now have 342 square feet of bare ground I have to do something with.

Actually only 234 square feet will be planted, as the walkways are a little more than 100 square feet, but the last actual productive garden (a couple of years back) was less than what the current walkways are. No further tilling should be necessary as long as I keep traffic on the walkways.

Guess I should have had the garden plan figured out ahead of time. However the plan developed after the fact: one 30" bed along the neighbor's fence, a 2 foot walkway, a 4 foot bed, 2 foot walkway, one more 4 foot bed and 2 foot walkway, and a 30" bed at the opposite end. Turned out perfectly, as I'm going to fence the whole thing to keep critters domestic and wild out. The 30" beds at each end should be OK for reaching in from only one side. The ancient patio is going to come up little by little too, so the pavers can be put to use in the walkways.

There will be peas, beans, greens of all stripes, maybe beets, potatoes (!), tomatoes, peppers, eggplants (although the seedlings are not doing too well), and whatever else can get shoved into this sort of bastardized square foot garden setup.

A week or so ago I also found out why many of the seedlings don't always make it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hot fun in the (not quite) summertime

The parents' anniversary was this week (53 years?!!) so we had a cookout instead of taking them to the no-reservations belly-up-to-the-trough steakhouse (just fine with me). It was a beautiful day if you ignored the gale force winds, so we did the grill stuff outside and the eating stuff inside.

Since I don't eat meat (and everyfreakinbody else in the family does), for family events my contribution is usually a baked pasta in the winter and a salad pasta in the warmer months.

Pasta salads are much maligned in the 'proper' culinary circles, I gather, but tough noogies. I love me some pasta salad almost any time of year. You really don't need a formal recipe for pasta salads, as they are the dish of choice to accommodate almost anything you might have on hand, but this is my latest favorite combo for a hot climate, Mediterranean type bowl o' noodles. And my new favorite noodle for salads is cellentani. Very sturdy and a fun shape to boot.

I (gasp!!!) ran out of extra virgin olive oil while making the salad so I used a mayo-olive oil combo for the dressing. Straight EVOO would work too, and would be more traditional.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. garlic granules or 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. prepared mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. of pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. milk, broth, or water, or as needed to thin dressing

1 lb. cellentani, rotini, or other robust pasta shape, cooked just barely al dente, and drained
1 cup diced bell pepper (mixed colors if available)
1 cup seeded, diced, and well drained tomatoes; or cherry tomatoes, cut in half; or ½ cup reconstituted, chopped, sun dried tomatoes
½ cup sliced black olives (mild, canned olives, well rinsed and drained, are fine)
½ cup diced red onion
½ cup toasted pine nuts or minced/crushed walnuts
½ cup shredded Parmesan style cheese, vegan or dairy (optional)

¼ cup slivered basil leaves, to serve

Whisk dressing ingredients in a bowl, correcting consistency with milk, broth, or water if necessary.
Combine cooked pasta through toasted pine nuts in a large bowl, fold in dressing, and blend all ingredients thoroughly.
Mix well, taste, and correct seasonings.
Chill to blend flavors.
Toss with slivered basil leaves just before serving.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Next day dish

Sometimes the second day is better for a recipe, not because the flavors need to marry, but because you decide you need to do something else with it. Exactly the case here. I saw a recipe at Whole Foods last month that looked like it would work with the Trader Joe's Veggie Chorizo I stocked up on, and the rest of the kale from the Portuguese Kale Soup, so after slicing and dicing the original recipe as usual, out came a pretty good casserole. But it was a tiny bit on the dry side, maybe because of the extra baking at the end. (Next time I will cover the casserole for the end baking step and that should fix the dryness.)

Then the next day I was pondering what to do for lunch and thought hmmm, wonder if this would work in burritos.


You don't want a soupy filling in a burrito cause it'll turn to slop; this made a filling with just the right amount of moisture. So if at first you don't succeed, wait until you're really hungry and don't feel like cooking anything else and create a leftover masterpiece (or at least a really quick lunch) with what you've got on hand.

Red Rice with Chorizo and Greens

Serves 6-8

12 oz. vegetarian chorizo sausage (such as Trader Joe’s or Field Roast, or homemade if you've got a good recipe)
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups long grain rice
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with chilies
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
4 cups vegetable broth or water
6 cups stemmed and chopped kale
1½ cups whole kernel corn (if canned, rinse and drain well)
Shredded cheese, for topping (optional; Teese makes a good vegan mozzarella if you want non-dairy)

Heat a large chef’s pan over medium-high heat, and remove sausage from casing into pan, crumbling as you go. Add onion and bell pepper and cook until chorizo begins to get crispy and onions are softened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in garlic through cumin. Cook and stir to brown the rice a little bit, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in broth and cover pan. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, until rice is just tender.

Meanwhile, cook kale in a 4-quart pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 10-12 minutes, and drain in a colander.

Remove rice mixture from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, covered.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Uncover the rice, add kale and corn, and mix well. Spread in a 9”x13” casserole and bake at 350°F. for 20 minutes to heat through. Cover the casserole with foil if you want to retain more moisture, or leave uncovered if you will be using the rice as a filling and want it a little drier.

Top with shredded cheese if desired before serving.

For a burrito, place about a half cup of rice on a medium tortilla, sprinkle with taco or picante sauce and shredded cheese, and roll 'er up.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thinking outside the bag

Non-dairy queso has been a project for a few months now. Starting with a recipe at Vegan Explosion, I looked into others on the net.

Initial requirements: spicy but not incendiary, salt present but not overwhelmingly so, cheesy but it doesn't have to be EXACTLY THE SAME as a dairy queso. We want a rich, satisfying scoop, not a moo clone. Since I'm not yet vegan, I could just go out and get stupid Velveeta for that.

This is the latest version. I like it so much it's been dinner for the past two nights. But tonight I was chipped out (put the tortilla chip bag back in the pantry), and a little fake french bread roll from the local discount grocery became the dipper of choice. I was lazy, too; it's not even toasted (do toast it for maximum satisfaction) but it reinforces my belief that cheesy stuff on bread is one of God's gifts.

Try this with toasted pita chips too, they are way big contenders for the chip du jour.

Vegan Queso

Dry ingredients:
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
¼ - ½ cup chickpea or other flour (start out with the lower amount, as this really does thicken on standing)
¼ cup finely ground cashews or other nuts- use a spice grinder for a fine grind
1 Tbs. powdered miso (optional; make your own by placing teaspoonfuls of miso paste on a greased cookie sheet and drying in a very low oven until crumbly, or drying in a dehydrator)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chile powder- New Mexico chile powder is good
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. onion granules
½ tsp. garlic granules

Wet ingredients:
2 cups water or non-dairy milk; I've used both and can't tell much difference
2 Tbs. vegan butter or margarine, melted
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes and chiles, with liquid
1 Tbs. prepared mustard- I used Dijon cause that’s what I had, although plain ol' yellow is more traditional

paprika or chile powder, for garnish

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium (at least 2½ quart) saucepan and break up any lumps. Combine the wet ingredients in a bowl and slowly add to the dry ingredients, whisking as you go. Place over medium heat, and cook, stirring until the queso is thick and smooth. Adjust the seasonings to taste, and garnish with a little more paprika or chile powder if you like.

Serving suggestions: with tortilla chips, toasted french bread 'croutons', or toasted pita triangles; or on burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, etc.

Option: add a 4 oz. can of diced chiles, or a diced jalapeno, for a little more zing, but this is pretty snappy as is. You could also use a can of diced tomatoes without chiles if you want a tamer result.

Monday, March 2, 2009

March my foot

So much for three weeks til spring. This is the usual slap upside the head we get right before winter ends and spring begins. And it's not even good snow.

Started out as a wet Slurpee last night, continued through most of the night as temps fell, and petered out this afternoon; the remains will freeze into a treacherous, bumpy layer overnight just in time for rush hour tomorrow.

Hooray for the Mid-A!

Saturday, February 28, 2009


The plan was to get many of the seeds started three weeks ago (such as eggplant, that prima donna that requires such a long growing season) but of course it didn't happen. This weekend will have to do.

Everything will have a start date of March 1. I know that many people start on that date or after, but since we are reputed to have such a long growing season in the Mid-A, I always feel like it's REQUIRED to start by the end of January.

Since this winter has been one of the coldest I can remember for a long time, tough beans. Looks like I'm not going to be moving this year so might as well get a garden going again.

Which is OK cause I love dirt.

March 1: the dirt hits the fan. Here we are crushing Black Pearl ornamental pepper pods for seed extraction. Did some Royal Black African ornamentals also. Now on to eggplant and tomatoes.

March 21: uh, still planting seeds. Got pepper, tomato, and eggplant sprouts already but the greens are just going in the dirt today. What the muck, maybe they'll be up by July.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The pseudo staff of life

I had forgotten how much I love rye bread. This isn’t going to be about serious, New York Deli Jewish Rye Bread; think of it more as Really Easy Pseudo Rye.

Flashback: never having been a serious baker ever in my life, many years ago I purchased a bread machine, a Breadman TR-500. This was their first model and didn’t have the advanced features most machines have today, but was marketed as being great for whole grain loaves. It became my sole source of bread for a few years, and then slowly faded back into the pantry as I returned to buying bread from the supermarket. School and career changing probably had a bit to do with it.

Last year I dug out the bread machine, after some serious dust collecting for 4 or 5 years, and started experimenting again with making bread.

Perhaps not as many people cast a disdainful eye on bread machine baking now as in the past, but I still think there’s this stigma attached. My take is that anything that gets people to cook for themselves, no matter how much the process is automated, should be applauded. Food processors and fancy dancy mixers don’t seem to suffer the same bad rep as bread machines. I have both by the way- there is equal opportunity afforded to all gadgets in my kitchen. The bread machine can accept all the ingredients at once, then sit on the floor, under the counter and unattended (or in another tucked away area) while it does its work. You can’t do that with an open machine like a mixer.

The method I generally use now is to have the machine mix, knead, and complete the first rise, then remove the dough and do the second rise in a bread pan, finishing in the oven. If you are home for the process it just really doesn’t take that much longer than letting the machine do all the work. I’ve even done the refrigerator rise trick- do the second rise in the fridge overnight or all day, then bake in the morning before work or evening after work (per “The Arrowhead Mills Cookbook” bread baking instructions). After the final rise the dough is placed in a cold oven and then the cooking temp is set (also per Arrowhead Mills). Some additional rise occurs as the oven heats up, before the yeast is deactivated.

The recipe ingredients were adapted from “The Breadman’s Healthy Bread Book”, which was published to accompany my first bread machine (had to buy the book separately, but it's still a great reference). The original recipe wanted dried minced onion; I only had onion granules so that’s what is specified here. Worked fine. Fresh, finely minced onion would probably be even better, if you’ve got some handy.

The recipe could also be done completely by hand or mixed in a food processor, dealer’s choice.

Aside: I bought a more recent model of the Breadman a year or so ago, the Ultimate Plus, as it had more programmable features and the “advantage” of being able to make a horizontal loaf. It sucked. The old one wasn’t broke, so I shouldn’t have tried to fix it. The new one is OK for doing a first rise- usually, when the pan doesn’t get knocked off its supports- but machine baking a horizontal loaf is stupid. To really do it properly you have to have 2 paddles, which this does not have, and then you have 2 giant holes in the bottom of your loaf, instead of one. The first machine, which made a vertical loaf, was far superior to this version, but oh well. (Still have the first one- like I really need two bread machines.)

Anyway, boy do I love rye bread. Now I can try making the vegan Reubens from VeganDad...

Rye Bread with Bread Machine Prep

1-1/8 cups water
2 Tbs. canola oil
1 cup bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour- I used half white whole wheat and half regular whole wheat
1 cup rye flour
1½ Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. caraway seeds, more to taste
1 Tbs. vital wheat gluten
1½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. onion granules, more to taste
2 tsp. instant bread yeast, or 2¼ tsp. active dry yeast

Place ingredients in the bread machine and process on the dough cycle. (Alternatively, bake in the machine, choosing the whole wheat cycle as this recipe uses more whole grain flour than bread flour. Remove from the pan to cool so the loaf doesn’t get soggy).

When the dough cycle is complete, remove the dough and place on a floured board. Punch down and knead briefly to shape into a loaf. Place in a bread pan (or a couche if desired), cover with a towel, and set in a warm area to rise again until doubled. Or use the cool rise method, see above.

When the loaf has risen, place in a cold oven (either in the pan or removed from the couche and set on a baking stone), set oven to 375°F., and bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown. My (electric) oven usually finishes in 40-45.

Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. If you used a loaf pan, wait a few minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan so it doesn’t get soggy. The loaf in the picture was done in a pan but next time I think I’m going to bake this free form so the sides don’t look so funky.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dip redux

Well who'd a thunk. Forget the dip incarnation, the last recipe post became a simmer sauce for sauteed tofu, onions, and mushrooms, served over basmati rice, and it was fab!

I decided it was just too sweet as a dip, but with a little more curry powder sprinkled on the sauteed veggies, and the sauce poured over to heat through, it became the creamy, rich Indian type dish I love but feel guilty about because of the lavish use of dairy. Not a cow in sight for this dinner.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

And another dip

Really, my whole diet is not just dips, I swear. It does seem odd to have two dip posts so close together, especially considering this blog does not runneth over with posts so far (working on that.) I saw this recipe originally at the Whole Foods website, and had a box of silken tofu to use up, so there you go.

The original recipe wanted 8 oz. of tofu, and there is no way I'm going to use a partial box of anything if there's a way around it (see the post for Portuguese Kale soup). So I dumped a 12 oz. box into the bowl and started in on the other ingredients.

I think I only used about a tablespoon and a half of lemon juice, instead of 2, and it seemed lemony enough to me. But the original also wanted a tablespoon of honey. I used agave nectar, which I thought should be milder, and it seemed too sweet. So I'll cut back to a teaspoon and work from there next time.

To manage the sweetness, I increased the curry powder and garnished with some smoked paprika. Nice for finishing even if you don't use much. I think next time a little paprika should go into the dip itself.

Still managed to plow through a bunch of curry dip so far, even with the complaints. Plus I found a use for my poor little broken handled spoon rest. It was too pretty to chuck after I broke it, so now it has purpose in life!

Curry Dip with Chives and Paprika

1 12 oz. package silken tofu
1½ Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. canola oil
1 Tbs. curry powder
1 tsp. agave nectar or other sweetener of choice
1½ Tbs. tamari

2 Tbs. chopped chives (dried, as I had no fresh)
Smoked, hot, or sweet paprika, to garnish

Place tofu through tamari in a bowl and blend until smooth (an immersion blender works great). Stir in chives. Transfer to a serving bowl and chill an hour or so to firm the dip up. Garnish with paprika if desired, and serve.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Beautiful soup

Kale is not a pretty vegetable when it's cooked. I tried to dress it up for the photo but it's pointless. It's dark and sloppy and not at all photogenic. But we are not trying to win beauty contests here. We are trying to eat!

When I saw a big ol' two pound bag of cleaned, stemmed, chopped kale on sale for three dollars, I said hoo boy, it's time to put leafy greens on the menu. Plus there were potatoes to use up. I saw a recipe here that had been converted to vegetarian (and I had soy chorizo from Trader Joe's- yay!); it had originally come from a recipe by Rachel Ray here. So I poked around for the other ingredients, and naturally came up short on a few items.

No turnips. OK, we'll ratchet up the carrot and onion. Not enough kidney beans in the freezer. We'll supplement with the last of the pintos. A can of diced tomatoes with the juice for the chopped fresh tomatoes. Dried herbs for the fresh (it ain't summer here in the Mid-A!) And basically doubled the whole shebang cause I didn't want to split a 12 oz. package of veggie chorizo when I had nothing to do with the other half (but later I found a recipe for a rice dish with sun-dried tomatoes and chorizo- will try a veggie version of that soon).

When I opened the chorizo it basically disintegrated back to it's soy crumble origins. But it was really flavorful and spicy, and this soup kicks. Just don't expect to be able to slice or dice it into chunks if you get this brand, it's more like veggie ground. OK by me, and I've got soup for a week!

I have seen some recipes for veggie chorizo floating around the 'net and have put that project on the to-do list.

Portuguese Kale Soup
(aka Caldo Verde)

2 Tbs. olive oil
4 cloves minced garlic
1 cup diced onion
2 cups chopped carrot
1 lb. kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
12 oz. soy chorizo (such as Trader Joe’s), chopped or crumbled
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried thyme
8 cups vegetable stock
3 - 4 cups cooked kidney beans (or other beans of choice)
15 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
4 medium to large potatoes, diced

In a large stock pot (you're going to be stuffing in a lot of kale), heat the olive oil on medium-high. Add the garlic through carrots and cook for 5 - 10 minutes to soften a bit. Add the kale through herbs and mix well. Add the stock through tomatoes. Stir it to get the kale immersed in the broth so it will start cooking down. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 - 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the diced potatoes. Cook until just tender, about 10 - 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and add them to the soup. Remove the bay leaves.

If there's anything lacking nutritionally in this, I can't think of it. Plus it is delish. It just looks homely.