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

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.