December 30, 2008

Happy New Year

We've gone through a number of New Year's "traditions" over our years of living in the Midwest. There were several party years, until one year, the day before the party, the hosts announced they were breaking up, and the party was canceled. That was the year I convinced my friend Susan (also an attendee of the former "party") that we should all go to a New Year's Eve contra dance. That started a new tradition of dancing the night away — four hours of high octane dancing followed by a midnight dessert potluck. We did this for more years than I can remember, and it was great fun. Then, with my parents getting older and living in a condo in Florida, we started spending the holidays with them. New Year's Eve consisted of an early dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and that was pretty much it. After my mother died, we continued spending the holidays in Florida with my father, and later, my father and Rose. The restaurant would occasionally change, but not the scenario. The evening was mostly quiet and early, except that there was usually an "incident" involved. My father was not a patient man, and the incident may have been precipitated by something as seemingly insignificant as having to wait too long at the restaurant, or having the menu options changed from the last year, but it always created a bit of discomfort. My brother and sister-in-law, who live in Florida, sometimes joined us, but occasionally the "incidents" would become too much for them, and they would skip a year or two, much to my dismay.

One "incident" I particularly remember was the year I broke off the key in the lock to my father's front door. We had just gotten home, and it was cold, dark and later than usual (for us) and we had no choice but to go back to Rose's condo to get a phone book and seek out an emergency locksmith. (My father needed all sorts of medications that were inside his condo, and there was no way he would have waited until morning.) After several failed attempts, I finally reached an unlucky locksmith with a cell phone. He was obviously at a New Year's party with his wife, and I could hear celebration (and her distress at his leaving) in the background. He was a good 45 minutes away, and when he finally arrived, he could only do a temporary fix on the lock, which would have to be replaced the next day. Whew. I won't go into any more details but it was quite a night.

Last year was the first New Year's without my father, and my two brothers and I spent our time in Florida emptying the condo. I honestly don't even remember where I was on New Year's Eve. It seems erased from my memory. This year we will spend a quiet evening at home. We went to a "night before New Year's Eve" contra dance last night with Susan and her new fiancé, and had so much fun my husband and I decided we should start dancing again. But today I'm feeling quiet and a bit nostalgic.

I hope all of you have a happy and healthy New Year. I look forward to reading your wonderful blogs in 2009.

P.S. Don't forget to eat black eyed peas for good luck in the new year! Here's an easy and delicious recipe for Texas Caviar, or Black Eyed Pea Salsa.

December 27, 2008

Spinach and mushroom enchiladas with tomatillo sauce

I've only been to Mexico once, and it wasn't what I'd consider a "real" travel experience. I went to a conference in Cancun with my husband. He was a keynote speaker and the conference organizers had offered to bring the spouses of the main speakers to the conference all-expenses paid. At first I declined the invitation, not being a fan of large resorts in artificial settings, but then I had a last minute change of heart, and decided it would be more weird to not go than to go. After all, it was January and cold here, and January and warm there.

The resort was pretty much what I expected, but I did my best to be friendly and join the other spouses each day for beach going, shopping and relaxing. I took the bus to the tourist malls and bargained for jewelry (a bracelet that I still wear every day), and soaked up the rays and breezes on the beach. I do love to walk for a couple of hours on a beautiful beach, but the previously storm-battered and sadly eroded beach was not what I had envisioned. It was very narrow and filled with cabanas, and the sand at the water's edge, where I like to walk, slanted at about a 45˚ angle and was mushy instead of firm. After a short stroll, one leg hitting the sand at a much higher point than the other, my hip began to ache, and instead of enjoying the sight of miles of ocean lapping at sand, I envisioned a chiropractic adjustment table in a sterile room, and knew it was time to return to my cabana.

The resort was unwilling or unable to make vegan food accommodations beyond plain pasta with no sauce, so we opted to bus into town for our meals. We found a small chain of natural foods restaurants that served amazing local foods. The meals were so delicious that we tried repeatedly to lure other conference attendees to come with us, but they were all frightened of the word "natural" and chose to eat at the hotel instead. Interestingly, a large number of the group started disappearing. We later found out they had succumbed to dysentery and were recovering in their rooms. Although we ate enthusiastically, neither one of us ever had any problems. I just wish I had taken notes and photos so I could remember and recreate the wonderful traditional Mexican food we ate.

And this brings me to Rick Bayless. At first glance, Mr. Bayless seems to cook only animal-based Mexican dishes—with lots of chorizo and lard. Not exactly vegan food for thought. But, if you look beyond that first impression, you can find lots of inspiration for amazing meals. He was recently in Madison for a fund-raising event at which I was supposed to help, and I was really excited to meet him and watch him cook in person. At the last minute, I was unable to attend. I was very disappointed, but had a post-event opportunity to purchase one of his (signed) cookbooks for half-price. There were two choices, and I poured over each one, trying to determine which I was more likely to use. I chose "Mexican Everyday" instead of "Authentic Mexican 20th Anniversary Edition," because it contained meals you could make in 30 minutes. But the latter contained a treasure trove of information and would be a wonderful reference book. He provides so much insight into the flavors, ingredients and techniques involved in authentic Mexican cuisine, it's relatively easy to adapt the dishes into vegan versions without losing the fabulous taste. Plus, for many of the dishes in the book I selected, he offers vegetarian alternatives. And the side dishes and vegetables sound amazing. For example, you can skip the pork but make the Smoky Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Guajillo Salsa. I'm looking forward to substituting tofu, tempeh, seitan, beans, avocados and eggplant or other veggies for the animals, and using the preparation methods and sauces from the book, to create exciting flavors.

Our first try was Tomatillo-sauced enchiladas with spinach and mushrooms. We had only a few tomatillos in the house so we supplemented them (as per Rick's suggestion) with bottled tomatillo salsa. For the spinach we used a 12-ounce bag of chopped frozen spinach. We used eight ounces of white mushrooms, and we substituted vegetable stock for chicken stock and left out the shredded chicken (which is listed as optional in the recipe). We have lots of frozen jalapeños and other hot peppers from our garden, and we used those instead of fresh. This dish was easy to make and so delicious I had to force myself to stop eating. And following Mr. Bayless' easy method for softening corn tortillas, the tortillas were so much better than any we had prepared before. If you would like the revised recipe, e-mail me.

December 24, 2008

Ken's delectable chili

I remember in years past when everyone was longingly whimpering about wanting a white Christmas. "Oh why can't we have a little snow," they would moan. Not this year. This year the talk is all about canceled plans, anticipated visits that were postponed or not happening, worries about travel. And questions about where to put the snow that continues to fall with abandon. It's beautiful but it's enough. This is our second year of what feels like the Snow Olympics — and I fear we are going to break records again. We've so far had 36 inches in December. Yay for us. We should get a medal or something.

So what's the perfect food for freezing, blustery snow-filled days? Of course the answer is chili. (Or is the answer chocolate? Maybe I'm confused.) Even the sound of the name kind of fits the season. But EVERYONE already has a recipe for the "best chili in the world," don't they? What possible reason could there be for hurling another one into the blogosphere? That's what I thought when my husband made this version. I wasn't even in the mood for chili, and wasn't as excited to try it as he was to serve it. I could see it was especially pretty, with all the vegetable colors, so I took a picture or two, but really didn't expect to post about it—too overdone. But the taste was so exuberant it surprised me. The second time he made it convinced me that it was a worthy addition to the chili repertoire. It has a lot of ingredients but Ken says it's really easy to make.

So where did this terrific chili originate? Well, Ken was at the vet with our dog, Buffy. Buff was in the back having blood drawn, and Ken was in the waiting room — waiting. And waiting. Now, when I'm at the vet, I always pick up the dog magazines, but Ken's not sentimental like that. He doesn't care that Super Speedo Galactic Fido just won his 10th all-champion dog master competition. He found himself attracted to a Rachel Ray cooking magazine instead. There was a recipe for chili in there that inspired him to come home and make his own version of the dish he'd read about. Go Rachel! Maybe I should subscribe. (Just kidding.)

Perfect chili
  • two large yellow onions, chopped
  • three large cloves garlic, chopped
  • two–three celery stalks, chopped
  • two medium peeled carrots, julienned
  • three large sweet peppers (including red or yellow), chopped
  • one jalapeño pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 head cauliflower. divided into small florets
  • one can (or 1-3/4 cups home-cooked) kidney beans, drained
  • one can (or 1-3/4 cups home-cooked) pinto beans, drained
  • one can (or 1-3/4 cups home-cooked) garbanzo beans, drained
  • one 14.5 ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes (like Muir Glen)
  • one cup frozen corn
  • one–two tablespoons good quality chili powder
  • one teaspoons dried oregano
  • one teaspoon dried basil
  • one teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 cup red wine (or lemon juice, if you don't use wine)
  • about four ounces chorizo-style seitan*
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil for cooking
  1. In a large, heavy pan or dutch oven, sauté the cauliflower, onions, celery, carrots and peppers in one or two tablespoons of olive oil for a few minutes until the onions are translucent. A minute before the vegetables are done, add the garlic. (You know what I mean. Just don't burn the garlic.)
  2. Add the kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, seitan, tomatoes and wine.
  3. Stir in the chili powder, oregano, basil and hot sauce.
  4. Add water or vegetable broth as needed for the right consistency. (And so the chili won't burn as it cooks.)
  5. Simmer for about one hour or until the cauliflower is soft and the flavors have blended.
  6. Stir in the frozen corn and heat until the corn is hot.
  7. Adjust seasonings.
We serve ours with brown rice or with crusty bread.

notes:1. *My husband bought Upton's Naturals chorizo-style seitan to use in this recipe.

2. If we don't have leftover home-cooked beans, we use canned beans with no salt added. The cheapest beans we've found are the 365 brand at Whole Foods. The no-salt ones always seem to be hidden on the highest shelf!

3. Salt and spiciness are personal preferences, so add the amount that seems right for your taste. This recipe will be moderately spicy, depending on the heat in your jalapeño and chili powder.

4. I think a few fat leaves of Italian parsley or cilantro would go well with this. It needs a little dark green!


December 20, 2008

The best tofu cream cheese

We were supposed to go to a solstice party tonight and my husband made a big pot of chili to take along, but the weather is so nasty and we've turned into such wimps, that we've decided to stay home and watch a movie instead. I'm really disappointed about this but the thought of driving on slippery, snowy roads just doesn't appeal. By early yesterday morning we had nearly a foot of snow and stayed home from work as the schools were all closed the roads were pretty bad. I wasn't feeling that great so the day at home was welcome, but it's snowing again and we're supposed to get four to five more inches tonight. We are on track to break last year's snow record of 101 inches. In fact, we're way ahead. At least we've got that pot of chili on the stove.

We've been going to quite a few parties lately where we had to bring a dish along. It started me thinking about the good old tofu cream cheese that I used to tote to every event. I haven't made it in years, but I dug up the recipe since it's party season, and this was a dish that everyone, vegans and omnivores, all seemed to like. It never failed that at least one person (usually more) at every event would ask who made it and request the salty-tangy recipe. There were times when I was hesitant to say the word "tofu," if you know what I mean. And the ingredients are not the most common, everyday sort.

I learned to make it during the years when we were macrobiotic, and I really don't know where the recipe came from. Maybe I got it at a cooking class or lecture. I've looked for similar recipes on the Internet but haven't seen anything quite like this one.

There is one part in the recipe where you are supposed to press the tofu for 30 minutes. At first I used to do this in my pickle press, but when pinched for time I used extra firm tofu and skipped it. I think the texture is slightly better when the tofu is pressed but it's not that big a difference. Today the tofu I used seemed more watery than usual so I squeezed it between the layers of a thick waffle-weave kitchen towel. If you want to press it you can wrap it between layers of paper-or non-linty cotton towels, place it on a plate, and put something heavy on top.

The most important thing is to buy extra-firm water-packed tofu. It just doesn't work to use the pasteurized tofu in the box. (like Mori-nu) My favorite is Whitewave organic vacuum packed extra-firm tofu. Also, measure the tahini and umeboshi exactly! Exactly.

Tofu Cream cheese
  • one pound extra-firm water-packed or vacuum-packed tofu (NOT Mori-nu)
  • 1-1/2 level tablespoons umeboshi paste
  • three tablespoons tahini (three VERY LEVEL tablespoons. Don't be generous.)
  • three or four green onions, white and green parts
  1. Place the tofu in a pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer the tofu for two or three minutes.
  2. Drain then press the tofu for 30 minutes. Or just drain it. (see story above)
  3. Place the tofu, umeboshi and tahini in a food processor and process until creamy and smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  4. Finely slice the green onions and add to the processor. Pulse a few times to distribute them evenly but don't purée the onions.
  5. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with paprika or a garnish of your choice.
  6. Chill in refrigerator for at least one hour.
  7. Serve as a spread for crackers or bagels or stuff into celery or cherry tomatoes.

This is a spread and is quite stiff. It has a consistency similar to cream cheese, but can be thinned to use as a dip.

UPDATE: OK, this may be the best tofu cream cheese, but I've discovered a better vegan cream cheese made from cashews. It's a dead ringer for the real thing and you can read about it here.

December 12, 2008

Tempeh with mustard sauce,bok choy,mushrooms

On a recent post I made a dijon mustard sauce from Simply Ming, and used it to make a chickpea salad. I saved the leftover sauce to use in a tempeh dish and here it is. I don't have an actual recipe, just a photo illustrated description of what turned out to be a wonderful dish.

First I cut the tempeh in half widthwise and then split each piece to make four thin tempeh cutlets. I coated them with sauce and marinated them in a glass dish for about 10 minutes while I sliced mushrooms and cleaned bok choy. Olive oil was added to a heated wok and the tempeh and mushrooms were placed in the wok.

The mushrooms got stir fried and the tempeh was left to cook until it looked like this on both sides and was removed to a plate with the mushrooms.

Meanwhile, the bok choy was separated into stems and leaves. The stems were sliced into diagonal pieces and cooked in the wok until they started to taste good. The shredded leaves were added, cooked briefly until almost done, and then the tempeh and mushrooms were laid on top. A lid was applied and the food was allowed to steam for a few minutes until the veggies were finished and the tempeh hot.

The remains of the sauce was drizzled over the top and the tempeh, bok choy and mushrooms were transferred to plates with a side of perfectly steamed brown basmati rice.

It tasted great!

December 10, 2008

Vegan fudge from DD&D / kabocha-beet soup

I always say I shouldn't do attention-requiring tasks at night when I'm tired. They should get done early in the day when I'm more alert and fresh. Maybe if I'd tried to repair my torn winter boot when I had more time and energy, I wouldn't have super-glued that toothpick to my finger. And if I'd made the DD&D vegan fudge in the morning instead of at night, rushing to get it done, I might not have left out an ingredient!

It's all okay. The toothpick and my finger are separated, and the fudge looks a little rough but tastes great. I made Ricki's fudge with just a minor, intentional, logistical substitution of almond butter instead of macadamia nut butter, and was spreading it into the pan wondering why it was so hard to spread. "Seems a little stiff," I was thinking as I struggled to smooth it out and make it even. Then I looked up and saw the agavé nectar sitting on the counter. Oh. There was supposed to be a half cup of that. Too late, but will it be sweet enough? Soft enough? YES! For me anyway. I guess the chocolate chips, though bittersweet, were already fairly sweet, and the apricots and orange zest added the nicest flavor. Maybe it's a little firmer than intended...

I found it a bit hard to cut after its refrigeration period, so my pieces are somewhat uneven; more like the chocolate bark my father used to love so much than neat little fudgy rectangles. The question now is, must I eat this batch myself and make a new one with the correct ingredients and finer cut for those I was planning to share it with? After all, I DO want theirs to be perfect. I am motivated by only the highest intentions. What would you do? I'm thinking of making this again and covering it with finely crushed toasted almonds.

Kabocha-beet soup

I actually made the candy over the weekend. Tonight (Tuesday) I had to made some actual nourishing food for dinner. Not that fudge isn't nourishing, in its way, but it's so cold here right now that I wanted something hot to go with the fudge. We had a kabocha pumpkin that needed to be used, so squash soup seemed the obvious choice. It's so easy and tastes so good that I make it often. I was looking around in the fridge for some root veggie like a turnip or parsnip to add depth to the flavor. What I found was a beet. Beets are the one vegetable from the CSA box that are most likely to end up in our compost. We mean to eat them, but beets are just not my favorites.

Feeling virtuous, I grabbed that beet and headed to the sink. Even peeling the beet under water, I managed to spray my light grey sweatshirt with tiny red dots. Beets can be so mean. Well, I cooked the squash and the beet in the pressure cooker, and sautéed a lot of onion and garlic in the wok. When everything was cooked, the ingredients were combined in the pot to be puréed with my wonderful immersion blender. I added my usual white miso and truffle oil, but the squash was so sweet it needed something more. I added umeboshi vinegar, sambal (a preparation of chopped chiles and vinegar) and chopped green onions. The beet added a rich earthiness (and super intense color) to the soup and the vinegar and spices worked perfectly to balance the sweetness of the squash. Everyone said, "this soup is really good!" And it was. Who wudda thunk it?

note: Beets take longer to cook than squash. You can compensate for this by cutting the squash into large pieces and the beet into small pieces.

December 07, 2008

Another chick pea salad / meme

My family moved to a new house in a different school district on my ninth birthday. It was about a month after the start of the school year, and my brother and I had to go to a new school. Although I was unhappy to leave my old, familiar school, part of me was a little excited about starting a new one. Too bad for me I was placed in the classroom of the meanest teacher in the school. Miss Yocum was built like a bulldozer on two skinny legs, and her mouth turned permanently downward. It was rumored that she wore a wig, but if she did, she chose badly. I think she told the class they were getting "a new girl" moments before I was escorted to the classroom, and she didn't bother to introduce the class and me to each other. Instead, she made a commotion about how she didn't think she could find a small enough desk (titter titter) because I was SO SMALL. So small so small. Can't find a small enough desk. Good grief. She even sent a couple of kids to the storeroom to see if they could find a smaller one. This was not the most auspicious start to a new life. I was shy anyway, and school became a burden.

One day we were informed of an art contest involving a "clean-up fix-up paint-up" poster that we were each to do as an art project. The class would vote on the best one and that selection would go on to a school contest and the winner of that would go to the city contest. If there was one thing I loved to do it was draw and paint, and I really wanted to win this contest. I painted a poster that I really liked, but I knew my chances of winning were slim. Most contests like this were based on popularity, not skill, and if one of the popular kids had a poster that was even a little bit good, he or she would win. I was resigned, but hopeful. I was still pretty new, and there were probably some kids who didn't even know my name. Popularity was not my friend.

When the class voted, I was shocked and thrilled to have my poster overwhelmingly selected. It gave me hope, and made me feel included. And I knew they really liked the poster since it was the only reason I could have won. BUT THEN...Miss Yocum said to the class, "You picked THIS one? That ladder is as crooked as a dog's hind legs." Yes. She really said that. To a nine year old child in front of the entire class. And then Miss Yocum, may she rest in peace, called for a re-vote.

I was sick a lot that year, but so were a lot of the other kids in my class. Over the course of the year I noticed that she could bring the toughest boys to their knees. Luckily, I had other adults in my life that treated me well, and I also had a touch of rebelliousness that helped me assign the horribleness of that classroom to the teacher, not me.

I'm smiling as I write this, but also wondering what would possess a teacher to be so cruel. In any case, this is number seven. : ) (see below)

Now to the chick peas. I was watching Simply Ming (the cooking show) on Wisconsin Public Television — I guess it was a show from last season — and he was putting a mix of dijon, mayo and sambal onto all kinds of (not-vegan) stuff. When he plopped it into a bowl of crab meat, I immediately imagined a bowl of spicy-tangy chickpeas and veggies instead. I admit that I stole the condiment idea from Ming, but added a bit of agavé nectar to it to compensate for the sweetness that the crab would have added. I think I will also use some of the leftover sauce to prepare tempeh this week.

Sambal is a mix of red chillies. You can find it at Asian groceries or sometimes in the international food section of regular supermarkets.

Chickpea salad
  • 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
  • juice of one lime
  • 1 tablespoon sambal
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon agavé nectar
  • 2 cans chickpeas (no salt added preferred) or 2-1/2 to 3 cups home-cooked, rinsed and drained well
  • 1 cup finely shredded carrot
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
  1. To make the dressing, mix together the mustard, mayo, lime, sambal and agavé in a small bowl.
  2. Mash or pulse the chickpeas in a food processor until they are roughly broken up.
  3. Mix the chickpeas, onion, celery and carrot in a medium bowl.
  4. Add about 5 tablespoons of the dressing to the salad and mix until combined
note: Eden brand soaks and cooks their beans with kombu (dried kelp) which is supposed to make them more digestible and less likely to cause gas. If you have problems with digesting beans, try this brand, or cook them at home. Soak the beans overnight then drain and rinse them before cooking them in fresh water with a strip of kombu. A natural source of glutamic acid, kombu not only makes the beans more digestible, it also tenderizes, enhances flavor and adds invaluable vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals. Remove the seaweed before serving, if you wish. Although I like most seaweed a lot, the texture of kelp is a little creepy to me and I prefer not to eat it.


Here's a great little tool I got for $.25 at a yard sale last summer. It's so handy for getting the juice out of lemons and limes.


The meme — 7 random or weird facts about me — I was tagged by Claire.

1. You can't tell this by reading my blog, but I am only five feet and one half inch tall. You know that song "Short People" by Randy Newman? I've always liked that song.
2. I have read all of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles as well as her Sleeping Beauty erotic novels written under the pseudonym, A. N. Roquelaure. Long time ago. I'm much more serious now.
3. I love folk dancing and contra dancing. There was a time when I danced three nights a week.
4. I used to play recorders and krummhorns and performed in two early music consorts.
5. I once took a typing test in high school and my score was minus four. I've never forgotten that and I also don't think I ever improved. I passed the class by dong extra credit.
6. I never ate or liked chocolate until a couple of years ago. This is the weirdest fact of all, right?
7. See above.

Here are the rules:
  1. Link the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
  2. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.
  3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links.
  4. Let each person know that they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
I followed the first two rules but ignored the second two because I don't like asking people to do things they may not want to do. However, if you don't mind if I tag you, I happily will. Just let me know it's okay, either here or by e-mail.

December 04, 2008

Post Thanksgiving wrap-up (only a week late)

After reading about so many of your amazing Thanksgiving celebrations, I'm finally getting around to noting ours. We went to a potluck celebration at our friends' house in the country, and the amount and variety of food was astounding. Naturally, I forgot to bring the camera, but you can get a little sense of the celebration here. For our contribution to the meal, I made stuffed roasted seitan and apple-cranberry sauce. My husband made delicious chocolate chip cookies.

I photographed the seitan still in its baking dish (top photo) before we left the house, and we took the serving platter with us. On the plate l'm showing leftovers that we had the next night, since as I said, I didn't bring my camera to the event. The seitan was stuffed with brown basmati rice, wild rice and whole wheat bread cubes with onions, mushrooms, garlic, celery, chipotlé, dried apricots and I can't remember what else. One of these days I should write down a recipe so I can make it the same way twice, but it hasn't happened yet.

And this is my after Thanksgiving breakfast—oatmeal topped with cranberry-apple sauce. Wisconsin is a big cranberry growing state so both the cranberries and the apples were local.

November 30, 2008

Kale, cauliflower and pasta with pomegranate

When I was a child, my mother would always buy a few pomegranates when they came into season, even though she couldn't really afford them, and she and I would share the jewel-like fruit. There was only one problem. My mother believed that the seeds, like grape seeds, were inedible, so we would chew the juicy pulp off and spit out the seeds. When I was on my own, I thought wistfully of those pomegranates, but didn't want to deal with the piles of gnawed seeds, so I never bought any. Now I know better. You eat the seeds, of course!
In addition to being delicious, pomegranates and their juice contain very high levels of antioxidants and vitamin C, and have been the subject of much research over the past few years.
According to
... Researchers report that [pomegranates] are rich in antioxidants that can keep bad LDL cholesterol from oxidizing (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2000). This degradation of LDL seems to be an initial step in the development of atherosclerosis. In addition, pomegranate juice, like aspirin, can help keep blood platelets from clumping together to form unwanted clots."
Does this make any difference clinically? More recent research has found that eight ounces of pomegranate juice daily for three months improved the amount of oxygen getting to the heart muscle of patients with coronary heart disease (American Journal of the College of Cardiology, Sept. 2005). Other researchers report that long-term consumption of pomegranate juice may help combat erectile dysfunction (Journal of Urology, July 2005).
Research has also suggested that pomegranates may have possible health benefits in preventing prostate cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer, and helping osteoarthritis sufferers.
Pomegranate juice tastes so good that when I get my hands on a bottle of it, I end up drinking it before I can even contemplate using it in a recipe. The same was true of the whole fruit until I was recently given a large number of pomegranates. Here is what I did with one of them.

Kale, cauliflower, tempeh and pasta with pomegranate
  • one large bunch of kale, washed, thick stems removed, thinly sliced
  • one head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • four ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • seeds and pulp from one pomegranate
  • eight ounces tempeh, cut into one inch by one inch by 1/2 inch pieces
  • eight ounces small pasta (like bowties), cooked according to package directions and tossed with two tablespoons olive oil
  • olive oil
  • sweet mustard sauce (one tablespoon dijon mustard, one tablespoon agavé syrup or maple syrup, one teaspoon tamari or natural soy sauce, one teaspoon balsamic vinegar, three tablespoons water or no-salt vegetable broth)
  1. Make the mustard sauce by mixing the ingredients listed, in a small dish. Set aside.
  2. Toss the cauliflower with a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy ceramic baking dish or cast iron pan. Roast in a 450˚ oven for 20 minutes. Stir and continue roasting until softened and starting to brown around the edges.
  3. Meanwhile, in a wok, stir fry the tempeh in one tablespoon olive oil. As it cooks, sprinkle evenly with one–two teaspoons tamari and turn frequently. (Be careful when adding the tamari. It can splatter.) When the tempeh is starting to brown, add the mushrooms. When the tempeh is browned and the mushrooms are cooked, stir in the raisins and remove to a bowl.
  4. Add the kale to the wok, cover and steam in the water left clinging to the leaves from washing. (If necessary, add one or two tablespoons water to keep from burning.) When the kale is bright green and tender, add the tempeh and two tablwspoons of the mustard sauce.
  5. Toss the cooked pasta with one–two tablespoons olive oil and the remaining mustard sauce. Place the cooked and seasoned pasta on a large, oval serving platter. Mound the kale and tempeh along the center. Surround the kale with the cauliflower. Spread the pomegranate seeds over the top of the kale.
How to get the seeds out

Cut off the flower end. Make five evenly spaced shallow incisions in the skin from the top to the base. In a large bowl of water, break apart the fruit along the incisions. Push out the seeds with your fingers. The seeds will sink and the membranes will float. Remove all the skin and membranes and drain the seeds.

November 28, 2008

My dog has high cholesterol / Buffy's vegan dog cookies

My dog has high cholesterol. I've never known a dog with this problem; nor did I know that dogs were even tested for such things. She went to the vet for a couple of other complaints and received "routine" blood work to check her kidney function and such, as she is an older girl. We think she is 15, since her paperwork said she was three when we adopted her from the Humane Society 12 years ago. We didn't know the actual day of her birth, so we gave her the same birth date as our other (now deceased and sorely missed) dog, Starr. Anyway, the vet now wants to do a fasting blood test to recheck her cholesterol. In dogs with untreated high cholesterol, the cholesterol can be deposited in other organs, particularly the eyes. Buff has cloudiness developing in one of her eyes which had previously been contributed to age-related cataracts. Now the vet thinks the cholesterol could be a factor. We'll see.

Her reaction to the news was understandably irate. "Just give me more carrots," she said. "And I'd be happy to consume almonds and walnuts if you people would let me." In addition to the high cholesterol, she also has a slight heart murmur.

Of all the indignities, her fast began on Thanksgiving, and ended today after her test.

What could I do but bake her some dog cookies?

UPDATE: Buffy is now on thyroid medication (for hypo-thyroid) which helps to control her cholesterol.

Buffy's vegan dog cookies.
  • one cup spelt flour
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes (NOT baking yeast!)
  • 1/4 cup all-natural peanut butter
  • two tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water (or no-salt veg. broth)
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour and yeast flakes.
  2. Mix peanut butter and oil with water. (I measure the 1/2 cup water into a measuring cup, then add the peanut butter to make 3/4 cup, then add the oil and mix with a fork until the p-butter is dissolved.)
  3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Drop by small teaspoons onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.
  5. Bake at 350˚ for 20 minutes.
  6. Cool and store in a closed container.
  7. Makes about 50 small cookies.
Here's a link to a list of foods dogs cannot have

The following list of foods comes from here:

  • Avocados (fruit, pip, and plant) are toxic to dogs. They can cause difficulty breathing; fluid accumulation in the chest, abdomen and heart; or pancreatitis.

  • Onions destroy red blood cells and can cause anemia, weakness, and breathing difficulty. Even small amounts can cause cumulative damage over time. This includes onions or chives - raw, powdered, dehydrated, or cooked.

  • Large amounts of garlic cause the same problems as onions.

  • Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs. As little as a single serving of raisins can kill him. If the dog doesn't eat enough at one time to be fatal, he can be severely damaged by eating just a few grapes or raisins regularly.

  • Tomatoes can cause tremors and heart arrhythmias. Tomato plants and the most toxic, but tomatoes themselves are also unsafe. (All parts of the plant except the tomato itself are also poisonous to humans.)

  • Nutmeg can cause tremors, seizures and death.

  • Caffeine (from coffee, coffee grounds, tea, or tea bags) stimulates the central nervous and cardiac systems, and can cause vomiting, restlessness, heart palpitations, and even death within hours.

  • Diet products containing the sweetener Xylitol can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar, resulting in depression, loss of coordination and seizures. Unless treatment is given quickly, the dog could die.

  • Macadamia nuts can cause weakness, muscle tremor and paralysis. These symptoms are usually temporary.

  • Walnuts are poisonous to dogs.

  • Chocolate can cause seizures, coma and death. Baker’s chocolate is the most dangerous. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is. But any chocolate, in large enough amounts, can kill a dog. An ounce of chocolate can poison a 30-pound dog, and many dogs will happily consume more than this. The symptoms may not show up for several hours (and so might make you think all is well), with death following within twenty-four hours. A dog can consume milk chocolate and appear to be fine because it is not as concentrated, but it is still dangerous.

  • Apple seeds, cherry pips, peach pips, pear pips, plum pips, peaches and apricot pips contain cyanide, which is poisonous.

  • Too much salt can cause kidney problems. Also, large breeds of dogs that eat salty food may then drink too much water and develop bloat, which is fatal unless emergency treatment is given very quickly.

  • Too much fat or fried foods can cause pancreatitis.

  • Ham and bacon contain too much fat and too much salt, and can cause pancreatitis. Also, large breeds of dogs that eat salty food may drink too much water and develop a life-threatening condition called bloat. This is where the stomach fills up with gas and within several hours may twist, causing death.

  • Raw liver or too much cooked liver (three servings a week) can lead to vitamin A toxicity. This can cause deformed bones, excessive bone growth on the elbows and spine, weight loss, and anorexia. Check the label of your canned dog food to be sure that it does not contain liver if you are giving your dog liver also.

  • Wild mushrooms can cause abdominal pain, drooling, liver damage, kidney damage, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, coma, or death.

  • Raw egg whites contain a protein called avidin, which can deplete your dog of biotin, one of the B vitamins. Biotin is essential to your dog’s growth and coat health. The lack of it can cause hair loss, weakness, growth retardation, or skeleton deformity. Raw egg yolks contain enough biotin to prevent the deficiency, so this is not a problem with raw whole eggs. Raw egg yolks could contain salmonella, so you should get your eggs from a reliable source or cook the eggs.

  • Grains should not be given in large amounts or make up a large part of a dog’s diet, but rice is generally safe in small amounts.

  • Cooked bones can splinter and tear a dog’s internal organs.

  • Dogs can't digest most vegetables (carrots, green beans, lettuce, potatoes or yams) whole or in large pieces. Potato peels and green potatoes are dangerous.

  • Dairy products are high in fat, which can cause pancreatitis, gas and diarrhea. A small amount of non-fat, plain yogurt is usually safe.

  • Pennies made from the 1980s to today contain zinc, which can cause kidney failure and damage to red blood cells. A dog that consumes even one penny can become quite sick, or even die, if the penny is not removed.

  • November 23, 2008

    Bad cake/good mandoline

    I made an unfortunate cake. It doesn't look bad. And it was not so bad that WE wouldn't eat it, but too bad to post the recipe. (The bad photo matches the cake.) It was supposed to be a pear-apple-raisin up-side-down cake but the cake was hard, gummy and heavy — as if it had no leavening. And I know it had baking powder because I noted that we needed to buy more when I added it to the flour. I used my Japanese Benriner to slice the fruit, and the slices were so pretty that I was wishing I'd planned to make a fruit tart instead of an upsidedown cake so the slices wouldn't all be hidden. Since the cake turned out so poorly, this will be a post about helpful kitchen tools, instead of cake. In particular, my handy-dandy mandoline.

    I have a Japanese Benriner purchased years ago at a local Asian market. I love the way it makes perfectly even slices of fruits and veggies. It shreds up a cabbage in nothing flat. (It's a little dangerous and will slice your finger if you're not careful and alert. But if you pay attention, keep your fingers out of the way and use the finger protector, everything will be fine.)

    I was quite taken by the beautiful pear shapes I sliced up to hide under the cake, and when the cake failed, I decided to focus on the mandoline instead of the dessert. In addition to the straight blade, there are three other blades that look like combs with variously spaced very sharp little teeth. Unfortunately, I'd never tried them! So for this post, I decided to finally see what they could do.

    First task was to get them inserted into the mandoline without the long-gone instructions. (Now I know what those two screws on the sides are for!) The main blade stays in place, and one of the "combs" inserts perpendicular to the blade. I was able to create three different cuts—very fine, medium and 1/4-inch matchstick. At first I thought the slices were just coming out as ... slices. But when I touched one, it divided into little strips. I did carrots, cucumber and zucchini.

    The Benriner, purchased at an Asian supermarket rather than a kitchenware store, is just about the cheapest mandoline out there. But in spite of its low cost, it's really a great piece of equipment. It comes in several varieties including a "super Benriner" which is a bit wider than the regular one.

    I recently sent my daughter-in-law a Borner V-slicer Pro as a gift. After doing a lot of internet research, I found myself influenced by all the stuff I'd read, and I wanted to get her something a little nicer than mine. This seemed to be the best choice for the cost and she seems to like it. However, for a basic, hard-working mandoline that is extremely reasonable in cost, the Benriner is not a bad choice.

    November 19, 2008

    Spicy chipotle squash soup

    I know what you're thinking. Soup again? Is that all she eats? I really don't like to repeat myself and post variations of past recipes, but this was the best winter squash soup I've ever made. It just wouldn't be fair not to share the recipe, even if it is related to a recent post.

    I was having a "don't want to cook" night, and nothing seemed easy enough. My daughter-in-law e-mailed me a recipe for a butternut squash lasagna that she had just made but she couldn't convince me that it "wasn't any trouble at all." Yeah right. When non-vegans make lasagna they just have to scoop the ricotta out of a container. Vegans have to make the "ricotta." And there was the part about baking the squash and making the sauce. On and on. I thought lasagna was trouble BEFORE I was vegan, which is why it's usually served on special occasions and at potlucks when you're trying to show off.

    But the squash part reminded me that I could make a pressure-cooked soup without much effort. I hadn't planned to post about it since I had recently done that, but a few changes in the seasonings produced a result that surprised us with its fabulous flavor. I have to warn you that it was really spicy. Maybe even a little too spicy for me. I think I had smoke coming out of my ears, but my fire-eating son pronounced it the best soup he'd ever had.

    I used two delicata and one acorn squash but you can use any dry-fleshed squash like butternut or buttercup.

    Spicy winter soup
    • Winter squash equivalent to one large butternut squash
    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    • two or three pieces crystallized ginger
    • 1 large clove garlic, minced
    • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
    • 1 teaspoon truffle oil or virgin olive oil
    1. Sauté the chopped onion in the pressure cooker until it softens and starts to brown. Remove to a small bowl.
    2. Cut the ends off the squash, split in half, remove seeds and cut into large pieces. Place in the pressure cooker with six (approximately) cups of water. Cook at pressure for five minutes. Bring pressure down quickly. Lift the squash out with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl to cool a little. When the squash is cool nough to handle, scrape the flesh out with a spoon and put the skin in the compost.
    3. Put the squash back into the pot with onion, garlic, ginger, chipotlé, oil and salt to taste. (I used a scant half teaspoon of salt.)
    4. Use an immersible blender to purée the soup to creamy perfection. (Or use an actual blender.)
    And this is????
    Okay. My husband has many visiting scholars and foreign students visiting him on campus (he's a professor). Many of them are from Asia and they often bring him tea. We have this little can of tightly wound bundles of something that when placed in a tea infuser and steeped in a mug of hot water, look like this picture. Any tea experts out there who know what it is? It's very flowery and delicious.

    November 15, 2008

    Cranberry-chocolate chip muffins and Cranberry-ginger corn muffins

    I have a muffin recipe that's so old that many of the words are rubbed off and I've had to rewrite them on the back. I use it as a base recipe on which to build variations. The original was not vegan, and I've adapted and changed it over the years. In its current state, it acts as my starting point for whatever muffin I have in mind. I hunted it down when I started thinking about Thanksgiving and the fact that I still have cranberries from last year in the freezer, and I really should use them up before getting fresh ones. The freezer isn't that big but it does tend to become a den of antiquity, if you know what I mean. So I decided to make muffins - and store the extras in the freezer... . In addition to the cranberries, there are chocolate chips, and the combination is even better than I thought it would be. I don't think the extras will be around too long.

    This batter is stiffer than most muffin batters but the muffins themselves are tender and light. I've added a touch more sugar than I normally do, to balance the tangy cranberries, but they are still pretty low-fat and low-sugar compared to most recipes. I pop blobs of batter into the tins without worrying about the shape. They look like regular muffins when they are done but with a rough rather than smooth top. The recipe makes 12-15 delicious muffins, depending on how much batter goes into each cup. I tend to fill mine generously because they don't rise that much.

    Cranberry chocolate chip muffins
    • two cups white whole wheat flour
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • one teaspoon cinnamon
    • one level tablespoon baking powder
    • 1/3 cup sucanot
    • one heaping tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate plus enough non-dairy milk to make 1-1/3 cups
    • 1/4 cup canola oil
    • 1-1/2 cups frozen or fresh cranberries
    • 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
    1. Put the orange juice concentrate in a quart measuring cup and add enough soy (or other non-dairy) milk to make 1-1/3 cups. Add 1/4 cup oil and mix together.
    2. Stir or sift the flour to lighten it before measuring. In a large bowl, combine two cups flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Mix well.
    3. Place 1 cup cranberries in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of the flour mix. Buzz a few times until the cranberries are chopped but still fairly big. (You could also cut each one into four pieces by hand.)
    4. Mix the baking powder into the flour mixture.
    5. Add the cranberries and 1/2 cup chocolate chips to the flour and mix well.
    6. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and fold in quickly but thoroughly. Do not over mix.
    7. Fill lightly oiled muffin tins and bake in a preheated 400˚ oven for 18-20 minutes or until done.
    Cranberry-ginger corn muffins

    Here's a little bonus variation since I still had cranberries left over. These were big, gorgeous cranberries by the way. They were purchased fresh from a grower at the indoor winter farmer's market last year. They looked like glowing jewels, and I was tempted to just let them stay in the freezer a bit longer, but Thanksgiving is just around the corner and it's time for a new crop. These muffins also have crystallized ginger bits for a spicy-sweet bite.
    • one cup white whole wheat flour
    • one cup yellow cornmeal
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • one teaspoon cinnamon
    • one level tablespoon baking powder
    • 1/3 cup sucanot (evaporated cane juice)
    • one heaping tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate plus enough non-dairy milk to make 1-1/3 cups (I used rice milk)
    • 1/4 cup canola oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1-1/2 cups frozen or fresh cranberries
    • 1/2 cup crystallized ginger bits
    1. Put the orange juice concentrate in a quart measuring cup and add enough rice (or other non-dairy) milk to make 1-1/3 cups. Add 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla and mix together.
    2. Stir or sift the flour to lighten it before measuring. In a large bowl, combine one cup flour, one cup cornmeal, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Mix well.
    3. Place 1 cup cranberries in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of the flour mix. Buzz a few times until the cranberries are chopped but still fairly big. (You could also cut each one into four pieces by hand.)
    4. Mix the baking powder thoroughly into the flour mixture.
    5. Add the cranberries and 1/2 cup chocolate chips to the flour and mix well.
    6. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and fold in quickly but thoroughly. Do not over mix.
    7. Fill lightly oiled muffin tins and bake in a preheated 400˚ oven for 18-20 minutes or until done.

    November 12, 2008

    Purple cauliflower soup: fast, easy ... purple

    Fall weather always makes me crave creamy soups. Maybe it's because they're so comforting and I need reassurance to face the long winter ahead. Whatever the reason, my youngest son and I decided to cook together, and the menu was to be soup and sweet potato fries. Because we are eating from our CSA box, and because our farmer loves to grow purple cauliflower, that's what I used for the soup. I was more than a little skeptical about what it would look like—I'm used to creamy white cauliflower soup—but game. I cooked it in my pressure cooker, and even though I knew I was cooking a purple cauliflower, when I opened the pot I was still surprised to see deep purple liquid and lavender cauliflower pieces. I went at it with the immersion blender, and it blended into a nice shade of purple.

    The next surprise came when I added fresh squeezed lime juice (we have a lot of limes from our CSA fruit share) and as the juice hit the purple, it turned a bright magenta. This was getting interesting. I tasted and seasoned and wrote down approximately what I did. We ended up with a great tasting pot of weird looking soup.

    Jordan made our usual oven sweet potato fries, with the addition of spicy chipotlé powder, and they were superb. In fact, we ate them before I remembered the camera!

    Creamy cauliflower soup (in the pressure cooker)
    • large head of cauliflower (white or purple), separated into medium chunks
    • medium onion, sliced
    • one stalk celery, sliced
    • 2 to 3 small white potatoes, peeled and cut up (for body)
    • water
    • one clove garlic, minced fine
    • 1/2 teaspoon of either truffle oil, olive oil, chili oil or no oil
    • one lime, juiced
    • sweet white miso, to taste
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • thinly sliced green onion, parsley or other green for garnish
    1. Sauté the onion and celery in a small amount of olive oil in the pressure cooker until the onion is translucent.
    2. Add the cauliflower and potato and enough water to come about 3/4 up the cauliflower.
    3. Bring up to pressure, turn the heat down and cook at pressure for 4 minutes.
    4. Run cool water over the lid to bring the pressure down. Open the pot and add the miso, lime juice and oil. Blend in the pot with an immersion blender, or in batches in a conventional blender. Stir in the garlic. Adjust seasonings. Garnish. I used baby arugula because that's what I had on hand.

    November 09, 2008

    Pierogi, (and pizza and pasta)

    pirogi with a grind of black pepper
    As soon as I saw Maureen's post about pierogi, I knew I was going to have to make some. In fact, you might say I became a little obsessed. She claimed Ukrainian ancestry and I claim Russian. Either way, these dumplings make great eating.

    Back in the days when I was young, and before I became lazy, I used to make my own noodles on a regular basis. I had, (and still have—somewhere) a hand crank Atlas pasta machine. Mostly the noodles were really successful, but there is one horror story that pops into my head when I contemplate stuffed noodles. It involved a very large dinner party and homemade ravioli assembled before the guests arrived, and stacked in a big bowl. Of course, the ravioli stuck together and turned into one massive bowl-shaped noodle. I'll let you imagine the poor frantic hostess salvaging what she could ... And I can't help thinking about the leftover pirogi in the refrigerator dish as I write this. But, of course, they are cooked and not sticky ... Right?

    pierogi in the refrigerator— not sticking together
    I followed Maureen's dough recipe with the following exceptions. I used white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, and I used two teaspoons of salt instead of two tablespoons. Also, instead of rolling out the dough and cutting the circles the traditional way, I took small pieces of dough and rolled each into a circle like I would a tortilla or chapatti. I rolled them pretty thin and made each circle about 4 to 5 inches in diameter.

    I had some leftover Bolivian cabbage and potatoes that I made into a filling. I sautéed three chopped onions and eight ounces of mashed-up tofu until it started turning brown, and mixed it with the cabbage and potatoes. If I hadn't had the leftovers, I might have sautéed shredded cabbage to mix with the onions, or baked some potatoes to mash with the fried onions.

    pierogi happily boiling at the water surface, refusing to sink.
    I boiled the dumplings five at a time in a big stock pot of water for 10 minutes. I guess they are supposed to sink and then rise to the surface when done, but mine never sank, thus the timer.

    I made at least two dozen good-sized dumplings before I ran out of filling, and still had a chunk of dough left over that I'll probably make into noodles. (I ran out of patience long before the filling ran out, but that's another story.) I guess my dumplings don't look like "real" pierogi but so what. They were good, good, good! Thanks, Maureen.

    The stock left over from cooking the pierogi was so tasty that we used it to make soup for dinner. (Couldn't eat any more pierogi - or much of anything else.)

    I seem to be on some sort of carb-fest lately. Here's a glimpse of another item I've recently cooked. I used the last of my refrigerated no-knead bread dough to make a mushroom pizza with vegan cheese. The dough had been in the refrigerator almost two weeks and developed a nice sourdough tang which bumped up the flavor.

    Ever since I roasted our garden tomatoes and made ranchero sauce, I've been using Muir Glen fire roasted crushed tomatoes instead of plain ones. I actually used them straight from the can for the pizza with just a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of oregano. Using roasted tomatoes makes a big flavor difference.

    November 07, 2008

    POM pomegranate juice

    A very strange thing happened. The blogger representing the company that produces Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice e-mailed me and offered to send me coupons to try their products. The person liked my blog and my efforts to offer healthy cooking ideas. I agreed to receive the coupons and sample the juice. I came home from work a few days later and noticed a shipping carton in our hallway but couldn't remember ordering anything. After I'd unwound a little from the workday, I took a look at the carton. Imagine my surprise to find a case of pomegranate juice inside! Eight eight-once bottles of garnet-colored juice.

    The literature accompanying the bottles says it has more antioxygens than just about anything else. So while my husband had his glass of wine, I sipped my bottle of Pom. It's delicious, too. I wish they'd send me another case!

    I really intended to create a recipe using pomegranate juice, but I drank it instead. It was just too tempting. Now we have a bunch of actual pomegranates from our last csa fruit share, in the refrigerator. I ate one outright and am contemplating the rest...

    November 03, 2008

    Kasha varniskes soup

    I've never entered a blog challenge before, but this No Croutons Required event on Tinned Tomatoes caught my attention. It's for soups or salads involving pasta, with an eye to comforting dishes to ward off the chilly weather ahead—or already here depending on where you live! Now some people might consider mac and cheese their comfort food, and others (misguided others?) may name meatloaf, but when I think of comfort food for cold weather, I think of kasha and bowties, or kasha varnishkes.

    Just the sound of the word "kasha" makes me think of blazing fireplaces and cozy sweaters — and my warm and wonderful grandmother. And bowties just seem thicker and mouthier than regular noodles, with a chewy twist in the middle of each one.

    Traditionally, in Russia, kasha means porridge and can be made from any whole grain or combination of grains. To me, it means buckwheat groats, and kasha varnishkes is buckwheat and noodles, specifically bowtie noodles. Kasha varnishkes is a traditional comfort food brought to America by Russian Jewish immigrants.

    Buckwheat is actually the seed of a fruit, not a grain. (You can read all about buckwheat and its possible appropriateness in gluten-free diets here.) It is very nutritious, delicious and quick cooking. Hulled, raw buckwheat is called buckwheat groats, and that's what I'm starting with in this recipe. After it's toasted in oil, it's called kasha. I've never encountered it in a soup before but thought I'd give it a try.

    Kasha varnishkes soup
    • three medium onions, halved and sliced thin
    • two medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin
    • 2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms, 1/2 inch slices
    • two cloves garlic, minced
    • four green onions, sliced thin
    • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
    • two-three tablespoons olive oil
    • 1/2 cup hulled buckwheat groats
    • one cup frozen green soybeans (edamame)
    • two tablespoons tamari soy sauce
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • eight ounces dry bowtie noodles, cooked and drained
    • six cups low-salt vegetable stock or water or a mix
    1. Cook noodles according to package directions, drain and set aside.
    2. In a five quart Dutch oven sauté the sliced onions, carrots and mushrooms in two tablespoons of oil until onion is soft, about five minutes.
    3. Push the onions aside and add the paprika, garlic and buckwheat to the pan. Cook, stirring, until buckwheat is fragrant. If the pan is dry, you can add a little oil.
    4. Add the 6 cups of water or stock, and return to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, add tamari and cook 12-15 minutes until buckwheat is tender.
    5. Add noodles. Add green onions, reserving some to sprinkle on each serving.
    6. Add a few grinds of pepper and additional salt if desired.

    Not only did this soup meet my expectations as a comfort food, the whole house smelled fantastic for hours. 

    We had this soup with teeny tiny steamed brussels sprouts and imaginary muffins. Next time real muffins!