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.