May 28, 2008

Rhubarb cobbler (wheat free)

I was thinking about what I should cook for the blog and every time I came up with an idea for something I wanted to try, a nagging thought kept annoying me. My garden is full of this year's rhubarb and my freezer is full of last year's rhubarb. I should make at least one thing with this plant that I used to love, but am now indifferent to, so I went outside and gathered a bunch of red stalks. And besides, my son recently asked for a rhubarb recipe, so here comes a simple and homey cobbler. You might want to serve it with vegan ice cream to dress it up.

I was planning to roll a square of pastry and cut nine rectangles with my pastry cutter (for nifty zig-zag edges) and place them window-pane style across the top of the rhubarb. Or maybe cut out leaf shapes and arrange them artistically. Sigh. Of course I reached for my same old biscuit topping and slapped it on. Of course. So predictable.

Ironically, the recipe I always turn to for biscuit topping is from my junior high school foods and nutrition cookbook. I just can't believe I still have the cookbook, let alone use it. It was so long ago. I don't remember much about junior high home economics beyond the time in sewing class that I sewed through my finger at the sewing machine about five minutes after the teacher jokingly warned us not to do that. Or the inedible cake whose center sunk to the pan bottom. Oh wait, there was a pink place mat and two napkins that I embroidered with slices of blueberry pie (little knots for the blueberries!) and cups of steaming coffee. Other than that—a wasteland.

Anyway, I decided to use the basic recipe proportions while changing the actual ingredients. I've been relying on wheat so much lately that I though it would be more interesting to change the flour. I used to use make cookies, cakes and breads with barley, spelt and rice flours, and it occurred to me that I've become too narrow and should probably eat a greater variety of foods. However, if you prefer using wheat flour, the quantity is 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached white flour instead of the barley and spelt. (Using spelt requires more flour than wheat.)

Rhubarb cobbler
• 4 heaping cups rhubarb, cut into 1" pieces
• 1/2 to 1 cup sucanot*
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 Tablespoon arrowroot

biscuit topping
• 1/2 cup barley flour
• 3/4 cup spelt flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon sucanot
• 2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup soymilk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla

Put the rhubarb in a large bowl and toss with the arrowroot until coated. Add the sucanot and cinnamon and mix. (*Different varieties of rhubarb vary in their sweetness, with some incredibly sour and some more mild. And different folks have different sweetness requirements. I like things a bit on the tart side so 1/2 cup of sucanot works for me. Maybe you need more to make your tongue smile.) As the rhubarb sits, the sugar will start to melt, so give it a mix every so often as you make the topping.

Sift into a bowl (or whisk or just mix well) the barley flour, spelt flour, baking soda, salt and sucanot. Add the oil and mix with a fork until it looks like crumbs. Add the vanilla to the milk then add the milk all at once to the dry ingredients. Mix lightly together until combined.

Oil a 9" x 9" square baking dish and fill with the rhubarb mixture, making sure to scrape out and add all of the sugar. Spread the biscuit mixture on the top. You can drop it from a spoon as individual biscuits or spread as one piece. Bake in a preheated 375˚ oven for 35 minutes. Cool.

May 24, 2008

vegan sausage

Almost three months ago I wrote a post about home-made vegan sausage, but I never posted it. That was probably at least a month beore vegan sausage recipes started appearing all over the Internet. I was a little behind because one, it looked like too much trouble, and two, I didn't believe people would think it tasted good. It turns out I was wrong on both counts and we've made lots of seitan sausage in the last couple of months. This seems like the perfect time to finally post this as it's Memorial Day weekend and "The World's Largest Brat Fest" is happening in the city where we live. ("The World's Largest Vegan Brat Fest," held in the parking lot of Whole Foods, was yesterday.) For the record, the Brat Fest also serves vegetarian brats, and last year there was a controversy over whether or not the veggie brats should be considered in the total number of brats consumed! Click here for stats. My final version of the sausage, and the one I like best, appears at the very bottom of the post. You can eat it just as it is, but it's at its best sliced and sauteed in a little olive oil. It's really good.

Here's the post:

I'm not fond of overly-processed fake meats and cheeses. They are usually too high in salt and fat, they taste bad and they often try to simulate foods I didn't care to eat when I wasn't vegetarian, like lunch meats, hot dogs, sausage and such. Sheesh, I live in Wisconsin, land of brat-eating cheese heads, (no offense intended) and I've never tasted an actual brat. Before I moved here, I'd never even heard of them. The first one I tried was at an alternative Brat Fest (alternative to "The World's Largest Brat Fest" held here on Memorial Day) put on by Alliance for Animals. (If there are any meat-eating Wisconsinites out there reading this, you're probably shaking your heads in disgust!) The brand was Tofurky. I liked it well enough and they've come in handy at barbecues , but I don't crave them. I like seitan but I don't try to make it taste like meat. My husband sometimes buys lunch "meats" but I rarely eat them. He buys orange slices of "cheese" but they taste worse than American cheese, and I never ate that. It would be arrogant for me to say I didn't like any kind of animal food before becoming vegetarian. For example, I liked short ribs on the barbecue, and roasted chicken, and scrambled eggs. And melted mozzarella cheese on pizza. Now it all seems so gross. I don't want them anymore. When I think of burgers, I don't think of ground meat - I think of a food shape that fits easily into a bun. I don't want burgers to look or taste like beef. It's not the taste of these things I miss - I think it's TEXTURE. Sometimes you just want to chew something - really sink your teeth in. Yeah. Or wrap your mouth around a gooey stretchy bite of pizza.

One time I was baking a lot of tofu slices to take on a camping trip and in the effort of packing - three kids, dog, husband...- I forgot all about the tofu, and it baked all day. It was supposed to travel in the cooler and be road snacks for a few days. Now it was road kill. I was freaked. It had a texture somewhere between jerky and crackers - and it was great! I was transported back to a childhood of gnawing on the turkey wings of Thanksgivings past. It was texture. Tofu with texture and chew - with good taste as a bonus.

And there's pizza. I've put tofu on it. I've put weird fake cheese on it. I've put no cheese on it. I've put homemade "cheez" sauces on it. With a good crust, sauce and toppings, pizza can be great without cheese. But there's the mouth-feel memory of that stringy melted mozzarella buried somewhere in my brain, and every so often it surfaces. When I first considered becoming vegan, it was visions of pizza that passed before my eyes. I sometimes use small amounts of Follow Your Heart mozzarella on pizza and the melted texture is gratifying. I've even started almost liking the taste. (I've been reading about a new cheese coming from the Chicago soy dairy that's supposed to be even better.)

So where is this heading? Am I going to start eating more meat-like foods? No. I'm content to eat my veggies, fruits, nuts, grains and beans. But sometimes it's fun to create foods with textures (and tastes) that mimic old familiar foods. Sometimes it's fun to eat non-dairy ice cream. Yeah. It's always fun to do that.

Bamboo steamer used with Le Creuset pan
Anyway, I've been reading other blogs and finding all these "sausage" recipes. First I made sausage crumbles with soy protein and put some on a pizza and some into chili. (I didn't like it on the pizza but it was good in the chili!) Then I found Julie Hasson's vegan sausage on Everyday dish and I was intrigued. I found a simpler version called seitan sausage on the ppk, and being lazy, I tried that one, changing it only slightly. The only steamer I have is a bamboo steamer, so I used that to steam the seitan. It fit perfectly on top of my 3-1/2 quart, enameled cast iron pan. They turned out perfectly with a pleasing texture and taste. I've never steamed seitan before, and this has opened up all sorts of new possibilities. It's a bit different from simmering the seitan, which is how I've cooked it for the past 20 years.

I've been using vital wheat gluten for years to make a stuffed Thanksgiving roast. I've never had a recipe - just mixed it with water and seasoned it with herbs, spices, dry mustard, onion, garlic and tamari and rolled it out (this is not easy as it's very stretchy — an understatement!), fit it into a pan with the seitan extending over one side, filled the pan with rice-bread stuffing, stretched and tucked the side flap over the top and baked until puffed and golden. Now I'm finding all sorts of recipes out there for steamed seitan and I'm excited to start trying them.

Mash the pintos in a large bowl. My potato masher seems to be gone so I used the bottom of a glass. Mix in all the rest of the ingredients in the order listed and mix with a fork. Form into sausage shapes and roll each sausage up in a piece of aluminum foil, twisting the ends. Steam the rolls for 40 minutes.

After the sausages are steamed, try sautéing slices in a little olive oil until they brown a bit. I guarantee you'll be impressed. Smells good, too.

p.s. Okay. So I bought a potato masher and decided to make these again. (Actually, this is the third time, if you count my husband making them so I could test the recipe and see if it really was as easy as it seemed.) The first time I made this, I pretty much followed the recipe, but it's in my nature to muck around with recipes and change them. I mean, open a whole can of beans and only use 1/2 cup? Why not have a higher percentage of beans to flour. Maybe try a different kind of bean. The recipe below is slightly different from the one above, but the result is similar — perhaps a little more smooth and juicy.

seitan sausage #2 (very spicy) inspired by a recipe by Isa on PPK

1- 15 ounce can cannellini beans (or chick peas), rinsed, drained and mashed
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup cool water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 medium cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons Chinese red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (or sweet paprika)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh black pepper (coarse ground)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 chipotlé in adobo, mashed up (optional but really good)

Mash the pintos in a large bowl. My potato masher seems to be gone so I used the bottom of a glass. mix the tomato paste and chipotlé (if used) into the mashed beans before adding the rest of the ingredients. Mix in all the rest of the ingredients in the order listed and mix with a fork. Form into sausage shapes and roll each sausage up in a piece of aluminum foil, twisting the ends. Steam the rolls for 40 minutes. (about 4 to 6 sausages)

Try sautéing slices in a little olive oil until they brown a bit. I guarantee you'll be impressed. Smells good, too.

p.s. Okay. So I bought a potato masher and decided to make these again. (Actually, this is the third time, if you count my husband making them so I could test the recipe and see if it really was as easy as it seemed.) The first time I made this, I pretty much followed the recipe, but it's in my nature to muck around with recipes and change them. I mean, open a whole can of beans and only use 1/2 cup? Why not have a higher percentage of beans to flour. Maybe try a different kind of bean. The recipe below is slightly different from the one above, but the result is similar — perhaps a little more smooth and juicy.

Here's what I did for lunch with the finished sausage. I sautéed thinly sliced yellow potatoes and thinly sliced onion in a little olive oil. When the vegetables were tender, I added sliced seitan and cooked until lightly browned. Fresh pepper was ground over the top.

May 15, 2008

Spicy Bolivian cabbage and potatoes

It's gotten to the point that I feel a little crazy on airplanes. I'm still able to appear normal, but deep down inside I really can't stand to be strapped into that tiny space, squished next to who knows who, knowing I can't leave if I want to. I can't concentrate, so I can't read books, and even listening to music makes me edgy. There are only three things I can do to keep myself calm — sleep, read magazines and munch snacks. And "reading" the magazines puts me to sleep. Remember, I said I can't concentrate, so the magazines have to be the kind with lots of pictures and very short text. Good design is important, too, because I'm not really reading for information, just looking at pages, and I need them to look good.

The first thing I do when I get to the airport is hit the biggest magazine stand. I used to head for the gardening mags but even they have gotten too detailed for my airplane-malfunction, and now I grab the cooking magazines. Cooking mags work well because there are so many pictures, and I can think about cooking and blogging, and it keeps me distracted. (Sometimes I even get a copy of Real Simple because it's so pretty and—so simple. Ugh.)

Before I read the magazines I've just purchased, I look at the free airline ones in the seat pocket. There are usually some interesting photos (with captions that aren't too long!) and I skim the articles. Then I read the juicy SkyMall catalog for cheap thrills. I mean, who doesn't need a Pachelbell's Canon wind chime, color-changing gazing ball, windchill misting fan, inflatable movie screen or a motorized grill brush. Woohoo.

Anyway, all of this is leading up to an excellent recipe, which I found in a copy of Vegetarian Times brought back from a trip. VT has become my favorite airplane distraction, and as a bonus, I always find good stuff to cook. I'd consider subscribing, but then what would I do on those stupid airplanes?

Bolivian cabbage and potatoes
• 8 cups shredded cabbage (1 small head)
• 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1" chunks
• 2 tablespoons tomato paste
• 1 teaspoon organic sugar
• 2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 1 yellow, orange or red bell pepper, chopped
• 5 Roma tomatoes, chopped
• 1-2 jalapeños, finely diced (or hotter peppers if you prefer)
• 2 tablespoons lime juice
• 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro or parsley
• sliced vegan sausage, if you have some

1. Cook potatoes in boiling water 5-7 minutes or until tender. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Dissolve tomato paste and sugar in cooking water and set aside.
2. Heat oil in large pan, dutch oven or wok. Add onion, bell pepper and sauté 5 minutes. (We added some sliced, homemade vegan sausage.) Stir in tomatoes, jalapeño and tomato paste mixture. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cabbage and potatoes. Cook 5-6 minutes or until cabbage is wilted and potatoes are heated through. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with lime juice and cilantro and serve.

May 10, 2008

Ginger-carrot quick bread

I watched this quick bread being made on Everyday Food, a PBS cooking show, and I just had to try it. Of course, they made it with white flour and white sugar, so the carrot juice turned it a beautiful orange color. The color was part of the appeal, but by the time I made the cake "healthy" and vegan, it was a much different color. It looked more like ginger bread, but I can assure you it tasted delish. Because I don't like pieces of nuts in cake, I ground up the walnuts in my food processor until they were crumbly. I think adding the ground nuts made the cake taste richer. It was really easy, too, especially since there was no carrot grating involved.

Ginger-carrot quick bread
  • 3/4 cup sucanot (evaporated cain juice)
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups carrot juice
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour*
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup ground toasted walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350˚ and lightly oil a 8" x 4" loaf pan
2. Mix sugar, oil, vanilla and carrot juice in a large bowl.
3. Sift together the flour, ginger, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. (or just mix together well)
4. Add flour mixture to liquid mixture and mix just until combined. (In other words, don't overmix)
5. Bake 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in the pan and then invert onto a cooling rack.

note: When I peered through the glass door of my oven half way through baking to check on this cake, I never thought it would turn out okay. It looked awfully wet. But it turned out great in the taste department. It wouldn't, however, win any high-rise awards, although it was entirely presentable. Mine took the whole 55 minutes to bake.

Note: * I just made this again and I used white whole wheat flour. The color was much better this time—more orange. The cake rose beautifully and was soft and delicious!

May 06, 2008

What's a meme? Can you cook it and eat it?

A meme seems to be sort of an Internet chain letter. I've mostly been a chain-breaker except for those "send a postcard to the name at the top of the list and you'll soon receive hundreds of post cards" chain letters I always fell for when the kids were small. (STILL haven't received those post cards!) But I recently got tagged by Ricki, who I really like even though I haven't actually ever met her. So I'm going to do this, even though I only do this blog to write about food and food-related stuff. However, I'm only going to tag four others, not five. Sorry. I just don't get around blog-land enough to know that many bloggers.

The meme Ricki tagged me with requires me to grab the book I'm currently reading, go to page 123, find the fifth sentence and copy out the next three. Why, I'm not sure.

I usually like to read great novels where the writing is as important and thrilling as the story, but the last couple of books have been amazing non-fiction, written by journalists. I read "Mountains Beyond Mountains," by Tracy Kidder and "The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner- City Neighborhood" by David Simon and Edward Burns. Currently I'm reading "A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face With Modern Day Slavery" by E. Benjamin Skinner.

Why, you might wonder, am I reading this. It's because I knew the author when he was a young boy. He and my son spent many years singing in a boy choir and I drove the carpool twice a week to rehearsals. I can picture him— a serious, intelligent, polite and charming boy, in the back of my car. Well, he's all grown up. We went to hear Ben give a book talk and he's still serious, intelligent, polite and charming, as well as passionate and extremely handsome. I shared a few words with his mom about how frightening it was for her to have him researching this book for four years under very dangerous circumstances. I'm happy to plug Ben's book and bring more attention to the horrible facts surrounding present day enslavement of children and adults. You could say it's food for thought.

from page 123:
"But accession was not a fait accompli; European parliamentarians warned that problems such as human trafficking might delay the process.

Millions of Romanians had preempted the European vote with one of their own, using their feet. "Fuck Romania," one young woman had said to me, using a word that represented approximately 10 percent of her English vocabulary."

These might not be the precise three sentences that would encourage people to read this book, but I'm just following the rules here.

The four I am tagging:
Claire, my friend who blogs about real life and vegan cooking. The blog is written to keep her traveling and away-from-home children aware of home happenings.
Sangeeta, who beautifully photographs and describes her elegant cooking.
Michael, my friend whose blog is way over my head (no idea what it's about).
Sandy, my niece-in-law, who who takes wonderful photos and who is a designer at heart.

May 05, 2008

Balsamic-glazed asparagus

I found this recipe several years ago in the NY Times magazine and it's been a spring favorite ever since. My poorly-lit photo does not due it justice. I usually make it with the first local asparagus of the season and it's incredibly delicious — and easy of course. We actually had it a bit prematurely this year when my husband couldn't resist a bunch of trucked in California asparagus. I'm sure the veggie was great in California, but fresh local produce is much more satisfying. My favorite is from our CSA - the sweet nutty flavor of the asparagus is completely different from the ordinary supermarket variety. Well, I couldn't wait for the local stuff so I made the recipe anyway, and it was good. But, I'm still waiting for my Harmony Valley asparagus so I can enjoy the full-flavored version of this wonderful recipe.

Balsamic-glazed asparagus (based on a recipe from the NY Times)

1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), trimmed
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil, plus some for the skillet
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1. Add oil to a large a large non-stick skillet (I use a regular wok) and heat.
2. When the oil is hot, add the vinegar. When the vinegar sizzles, add the asparagus and spread out. Reduce heat to medium high and cook, turning the stalks frequently to coat with vinegar, until they are bright green and crisp-tender, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks. Grind fresh pepper and salt over the top, to taste.

4 to 6 servings - unless you really like asparagus! My husband and I eat them all.

May 02, 2008

cabbage with tapenade

I was just about to write that I seemed to be binging on stir-fries when I realized that "binge" and "stir-fry" don't really belong in the same sentence. Binge on ice cream, binge on chocolate, binge on linzer cookies...but stir-fry? So, I'm on a stir-fry kick, streak, obsession...or maybe it's a stir-fry rut. I've been making stir-fries for days because they're so fast, only use a wok and maybe another pot to boil or steam a grain. Easy, easy, easy. And endlessly versatile, allowing me to use whatever I find in the pantry. I posted the first one, the second was made in ten minutes and eaten while watching American Idol before I could photograph it. (Yes, I admit to being hooked on AI) The third was the weirdest but best tasting of all. I've gotten really fond of adding prunes to the wok so I added those, and while looking for interesting ingredients among my husband's almost empty jars of things, I found green olive tapenade and black olive spread. (One of these days, Ricki, I'll make the actual tagine instead of just borrowing parts of it.)

I started with thin slices of tofu, since it was leftover from the past few nights, and stir-fried it with leftover bun salad sauce (strained of solids and stored in a glass jar)
and a spoonful of sucanot. I shredded hard green cabbage with my santoku and stirred it in with two chopped green onions from the garden, dried tomatoes from last summer, the aforementioned cut-in-half prunes, a few sliced mushrooms and some thinly sliced baby carrots. With everything still crispy, I added the two olive spreads. I served it over thin rice noodles. This tasted delicious, even heated at work the next day for lunch.

Rice noodles taste really good are are fast to make. I put on a pot of water when I first started to cook and by the time the veggies were crisp-tender, the water was boiling. Pop the noodles into the pot and WATCH CAREFULLY, testing every 30 seconds or so for doneness. Don't turn your back as these noodles go from perfect to goo in a very short time. Drain them and add to the wok to soak up the sauce. Now, I promise not to write up any more stir fries.