February 27, 2009

Seattle diary: amazing home-cooked Thai food

Thai fried noodles (guey toew pad thai)

All three of our sons are great cooks and we're always excited when we have a chance to sample their cooking. When the oldest decided to cook a Thai dinner during our Seattle visit, we couldn't wait to see what he would prepare. We weren't disappointed. He made Chinese broccoli, spicy long beans, pad thai, and potato curry. Our middle son helped out by grilling tofu and the rest of the leftover potatoes. I have the recipes for this unusual version of pad thai, the potato curry and the long beans. They are from the cookbook, "Gourmet Thai in Minutes," by Vatcharin Bhumichitr. (It's not a vegetarian cookbook but many of the recipes can be easily modified. The author also has a vegetarian cookbook called Thai Vegetarian Cooking that sounds really good.) The pad thai is lighter and fresher tasting than the more familiar version. Just ask and I'll send the recipes to to you. The recipes are very simple and fast but involve some ingredients available from Asian grocery stores, like kaffir lime leaves and long beans. I think you could substitute regular string beans for the long beans but I'm not sure about the kaffir lime leaves. I think it would be worth it to find this stuff because the recipes are great!

Spicy quick-fried long beans (pat prik king)

Potato curry (gaeng kari)

grilled tofu

Chinese broccoli

grilled potato slices

The night after our Thai extravaganza, we opted for something simple — a miso-based soup and a veggie stir fry. In addition to greens and mushrooms, the soup contains yuba. Yuba is made by skimming off the surface skin that forms on simmering soymilk and drying it. You can buy it in packages as sheets, or rolled into sticks. It requires soaking and then cooking but is very easy to prepare. We usually use the sticks (bean-curd sticks) and cook it in soup. It has a very chewy and satisfying texture and absorbs flavors well.

Miso soup with bean-curd sticks

stir-fried veggies

Be sure to visit CCK (also known as CCV) to win a case of Jocalat bars from Larabar. You have until March 19 to enter. Who wouldn't want a case of Jocalat bars?

February 24, 2009

Seattle diary: houses and eating at Chiang's Gourmet

Scallion pancakes at Chiang's Gourmet.

We recently spent nine days in Seattle visiting family and eating a lot. And because we are considering moving there, we went to a bunch of open houses to get a sense of what the housing market was like. Expensive. Whew. The cost of living is considerably higher than where we presently live. We currently live pretty cheaply in a paid-off house that we purchased for a low price many years ago. We can get rid of everything we own, downsize, and live a more austere life, but there are certain things I need — like a decent working kitchen with room to store my kitchen equipment. Not one of the houses we looked at had that.

In one house, just after I asked the realtor why none of the stove burners would light, my husband asked why there were space heaters in every room — and why was she wearing a coat? She giggled. In another, the kitchen was too small for a table and there was no dining room. “Well,” said the realtor, “you could put a narrow table along that (living room) wall. Or you could take away the TV and put a small round table in that (living room) corner. Right. My favorite house of all was listed as a (quaint, I believe) three bedroom with a studio in the yard. Oh yes, the studio was fabulous — the studio of my dreams. I’m serious. The studio was amazing, but the house had issues. We saw one bedroom, living room, dining room and “kitchen." It was the size of a toy kitchen with minimal counter and cupboard space. There was no dishwasher and no place to put one, and the refrigerator was a compact under-the-counter model. You really couldn’t put a real refrigerator anywhere, which explains the tiny one. To be fair, there was an extra, tiny refrigerator and a little freezer outside. On the porch. Outside. We went outside and discovered a charming patio and steps leading to the basement. In the basement was a bedroom and a sitting room, along with a washer and dryer and workshop space. It was clearly a basement, but I was imagining how the bedroom could be a guest room and the other room an office. (I was obsessed with the studio and not in my right mind.) But when we looked for a way to go upstairs, we realized that you had to go outside to get to the main house! I had visions of a guest down there in the celler, in winter, waking in the night and discovering the only way to the bathroom was to go outside and up to the house. (Locked, of course.) Any Seattle readers out there who have insights about housing? Houses? Rentals? Condos? Neighborhoods?

You can really work up an appetite running around looking at houses all day, so we all had dinner at Chiang's Gourmet restaurant. They have a separate vegan menu with very interesting choices. (I've blogged about Chiang's in the past.) On this trip we had eight people, so there were lots of dishes to try. Here are some of them:

Pea vines.
Homemade noodles with broccoli and brown sauce.
Homemade noodles with tofu, greens, and peanuts.
Barbecued taro ribs — a vegan house specialty.
The "ribs" are made completely of taro so you can eat the whole thing. Now, I'm not suggesting that Chiang's is a healthy place to eat, but it sure is a tasty one. Everything looks and tastes great, and you will get a big dose of veggies.

Neat loaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. (may contain eggs.)
Another restaurant I had been wanting to try in Seattle is Silence-Heart-Nest — kind of a New Age diner run by followers of Sri Chinmoy. It is vegetarian with vegan options. I love places like this. We went there for lunch with our son Aaron and his gf Erica, and it was really good. I had a very creative and tasty version of beans and rice, my husband had a cup of soup and Aaron and Erica had a neatloaf sandwich and neatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Beans an rice.

February 22, 2009

Seattle food diary - party time

Miss 1-year-old bypasses the cute gift outfit and goes for the tag.

I've just returned from nine days in Seattle (that's why no posts) partying, playing, hiking, shopping and of course, eating, with family. We had a fabulous time, and consumed mounds of wonderful food that we didn't have to cook ourselves! Our kids are amazing cooks, and between their hospitality and Seattle's vegan offerings, we ate too well. Over the next few posts I'll describe what we ate and offer recipes when available.

We went to Seattle to celebrate our granddaughter's first birthday, and the event included an open house party with lots of kids, grown-ups and food. Here's some of the party fare:

Spinach dip made with Trader Joe's vegan mayo

Pasta salad made by Uncle Aaron

No-bake oatmeal chocolate treats made by Grammy Judy

Cake from PCC Coop

The cupcakes sank dramatically, so an emergency run was made to the PCC food coop to purchase two vegan cakes, banana and chocolate, which got decorated with raisins. The cupcakes were then rescued by filling in the craters with mounds of frosting! They looked perfectly normal...

Chocolate cupcakes from "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World"


Red bean salad

Sweet Oliver keeps an eye on things. Wait, is that frosting on his nose?

Miss 1-year-old thinks food is good but cards are better.

February 13, 2009

Mung bean soup with kale

By the time you read this post, I'll be on a plane to Seattle to celebrate my granddaughter's first birthday. She was born on Valentine's day which may explain why she is so incredibly sweet and lovable! I can't wait to see her and her parents, and our other Seattle-based son and his girlfriend. We'll also be in Seattle all through next week, seriously looking into whether or not we want to move there. But more about that if it actually happens.

Now on to the soup. I was about to put the raisin jar back on its shelf when I noticed the forgotten jar sitting behind it. It contained about two cups of whole mung beans. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd made anything with those beans, but I really like mung bean soup. Most people think of mung beans as the sprouts that appear so often in Chinese dishes, but the unsprouted beans make a wonderful soup. You can buy them whole or split (mung dal), with or without their skins, but I love the way the small, oval, green whole beans look, so I've always bought them whole. I don't soak them, though you could, and I like to cook them in the pressure cooker, but they can just as easily be cooked in a regular pot. They are supposed to be very healthful and easy to digest. I'm on a ginger and garlic streak so I combined those with what seemed like complimentary spices. I used crushed red pepper because we were out of cayenne and I completely forgot to add the cilantro. It was delicious.

uncooked, whole mung beans

Mung bean soup
2 cups whole mung beans, sorted, washed and drained
7 cups water (more if you want a thinner soup)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (more if you like it really hot)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sweetener of choice
juice of 1 lime
1 bunch kale, washed, center stem removed, chopped
1 large carrot, julienned
toasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
fresh coriander

hot sauce

  1. Put the beans in a pressure cooker with the water and bring to pressure. Cook for 25 minutes. (You can also cook the beans in a regular pot but it will take a bit longer.)
  2. When the beans are cooked, you can either leave them whole, blend them into a smooth purée, or blend about half of the soup with an immersion or regular blender. I chose to partially blend the beans to achieve a soup with a bit of texture.
  3. While the beans are cooking, heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the cumin seeds and fry until they turn brown. (Don't let them burn.)
  4. Add the garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric and salt and stir-fry for 1 minute.
  5. Add the cayenne, kale and carrot and stir-fry until the kale is tender and bright green. You may need to add a splash of water to the wok if it's too dry.
  6. When the vegetables are cooked, add them to the beans along with the sugar and lime juice. Add a tablespoon or two of water to the wok and scrape up any remaining seasonings to add to the soup pot.
  7. Serve in bowls garnished with pumpkin seeds, hot sauce and fresh coriander.

February 09, 2009

Tofu and veggies in ginger-garlic sauce

I love cookbooks, and even though I own a lot, there are always more I want. But, recently, something happened that made me ask this question: "What might make you suspect you own too many cookbooks?" We had been to the library a few weeks before, and brought home several cookbooks to try. We made a couple of dishes from them, and found one book in particular very appealing. Then, as I sat reading in the living room one evening, my husband walked into the room carrying our favorite of the borrowed cookbooks. "We own this," he said. "Huh?," I responded. "We own this cookbook. I just found it on the shelf." Yikes. I really should try to use our cookbooks more often, or at least get a grip on which ones are on the shelf.

So when I needed something to make for dinner did I turn to one of my many cookbooks for a recipe? Nope. I found an interesting mushroom recipe in my collection that I'd clipped from Better Homes and Gardens back in 2007, but had never made. (attributed to Catherine Wilkinson) I've adapted the seasonings and expanded it from a mushroom side-dish into a main dish that includes veggies and tofu.

My son and I cooked dinner together with me doing the cutting and him doing the cooking. I precut and measured all the ingredients into little dishes, just like the TV chefs, and cooking was fast and easy, just the way I like it. What a team! The dish was wonderful, and I think it's one I'll make often.

Tofu and vegetables in ginger and garlic sauce (serves four)
  • 1 tablespoon vegan margarine (Earth Balance)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup green onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (tuong ot toi) or 1/4 to1/2 teaspoon Thai red curry paste* (optional)
  • 12 ounces baby bella (cremini) mushrooms (or portabella or shiitake)
  • 2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce (I used low-sodium)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk (I used light)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice (I used 2)
  • 2 cups broccoli, cut into narrow strips
  • 1 large carrot, julienned
  • 6 to 8 ounces tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • cooked brown rice (I used basmati)
  1. Steam the broccoli and carrots briefly in a small amount of water in a covered pot until the broccoli turns bright green and is crisp-tender. Uncover and set aside.
  2. Heat the margarine and oil in a large skillet. Add the tofu, green onions, cilantro, ginger and garlic. Cook and stir for 1 minute.
  3. Stir in the mushrooms and soy sauce and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in the coconut milk and chili-garlic sauce. Add the broccoli and carrots. Bring to boiling, turn down heat and simmer, uncovered, about 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.
  6. Serve over cooked rice.
*Thai red curry paste can be very hot so use discretion. If using this, you might want to start with 1/4 teaspoon, depending on how spicy you like your food.

Just want to mention that the weather has certainly taken a turn for the better here in southern Wisconsin. Over the weekend the thermometer soared into the 40s (: D), and combined with the sunshine, it felt like spring to us. But what do we know? We unbutton our coats when it hits 30! (Not me, of course. I admit that 30 feels pleasantly balmy, but I still require appropriate clothing. I keep my long underwear on until at least March.)

In addition to the great weather, I had another pleasant weekend experience. My friend Claire won two tickets to the operetta Candide, by being the first person to call in to a radio station, and she invited me along. (Don't you sometimes wonder who those people are that win the radio call-in contests?) We had dinner together and then attended the performance, which was wonderful and hilarious. What a great evening — and I stayed awake for the whole thing.

February 06, 2009

Ricemellow Creme review (and lots more)

After I made this cake, I said I would do a review of Suzanne's Ricemellow vegan marshmallow cream as soon as I got around to trying it. I'd never used vegan marshmallows for anything except this particular cake, and my current need for Ricemellow was zero. Honestly, I didn't know quite what to do with it. Finally, last weekend, I opened the tub and put a blob on my oatmeal!

I had to try it on something, and although I felt silly, I just plopped some on my breakfast. This product is made from brown rice syrup, soy protein, natural flavors, natural gums. It's non-dairy and gluten free and it tastes exactly like marshmallows. It's light and creamy and sweet. If you miss marshmallows, you will LOVE this stuff. I'm sure you can find a better use for it than oatmeal. I have to say, though, that the oatmeal tasted great. So, what would you do with a tub of vegan marshmallow cream?

When we're not eating oatmeal with marshmallow cream, we're eating stuff like this:

Broccoli with peppers and mushrooms over oven-baked polenta
(tempeh on the side)

Felafels (sort of but not quite) with tahini sauce
(Made with 1 can of drained and rinsed chick peas, 1 onion, 2 large cloves of garlic, 2 teaspoons Chinese red pepper flakes*, 1/4 cup potato flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten, 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1/4 teaspoon salt and just enough water to form it into small rounds - maybe 2 tablespoons. Everything minced fine in the food processor but not puréed. Chickpeas added last. Sautéed slowly in an oiled cast iron pan until browned and firm. The sauce is tahini thinned with lemon juice and water. I would have added tons of parsley if I'd had some in the house.} This is all from memory the next day. I hadn't really planned to do a recipe — just needed something quick to eat!

Cuban black beans over brown rice

Pasta with kale,olives and canellini beans

note: *Chinese red pepper flakes are a great seasoning. I buy them in in a bag at an Asian market, transfer them to a glass jar and store them in the refridgerator, as advised by a Chinese friend. They look kind of like paprika but they have a mildly hot flavor. They add a pleasant heat to just about anything.

February 03, 2009

Chocolate cake with bittersweet chocolate frosting

When I was in elementary school, my class was given an assignment to prepare a piece for an oral presentation. All the other students began memorizing poems, essays, excerpts from stories and books. Not me; I memorized my mother's recipe for bittersweet chocolate icing. The teacher conceded that in all her years of teaching, no one had ever memorized a recipe before, and I couldn't tell if this was a good thing or a bad thing, though I suspected she would have preferred a more literary approach to the assignment. My feeling was, if you had to memorize something, it might as well be something you really wanted to know.

My mother didn't bake much, and when she did, it was usually a cake for someone's birthday. That cake was usually chocolate, but even if it wasn't, it was always covered in bittersweet chocolate frosting. It was, I think, just about the only chocolate thing I ate as a child. I learned to make it quite young, and memorizing the recipe seemed like a perfect idea. If only I could still remember it! I remember other things I had to memorize, things like my ghastly 7th grade music teacher's definitions of music and art, but not the icing recipe. I've been wracking my brains and searching old cookbooks hoping to find it. I finally decided to make what I think is the recipe and hope for the best.

Of course I needed a cake to put it on. This cake recipe is one of the first things that came to mind when I started writing this blog, but I feared that everyone who had been vegan at least two weeks, already knew about it. It probably appears in some form on just about every vegan and vegetarian blog there is, as well as tons of regular baking blogs and cookbooks. The vegans usually call it "vegan chocolate cake," and the omnivores refer to it by its traditional name, "wacky cake." It's said to come from the Great Depression when butter, milk and eggs were scarce, as it contains none of those things. The ingredients vary a little — sometimes 3/4 of a cup of sugar, sometimes 1 cup. Sometimes there's six tablespoons of oil, sometimes, five. And so on. It's sometimes baked square and sometimes round, and is usually topped with powdered sugar.

When I initially came across the recipe, I passed it over, thinking it couldn't be good with such spare ingredients. I didn't want to bake a cake that tasted vegan, if you know what I mean. I first ate the cake as a guest in my husband's cousin's home, and didn't know it was the wacky cake. It was so good I asked for the recipe, and was surprised to see it was the very same cake.

For a while I used non-dairy milk instead of water, but eventually decided the cake actually tasted better with water. I usually make it as an eight inch round or square, split the cake with a large serrated knife and put jam or frosting between the layers and on the top and sides. If I'm making it for a larger crowd, I'll make two recipes, and use two full layers to assemble the cake. It also works well as cupcakes. One of the great things about this cake is I always have the ingredients — there's nothing weird or hard to find. It's chocolatey and moist, tastes great, takes little effort and it always works! And even the non-vegans like it. What more can you ask from a cake? So, for all of you who have only been vegan for ONE week, or are thinking of being vegan if only you knew a good chocolate cake recipe, this is for you.

Vegan chocolate cake (wacky cake)
  • 1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached if you must)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (I use an evaporated cane juice, like Sucanot)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla
  • 5 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup water
  1. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. (Be sure to stir up the flour and add it to the measuring cup rather than scoop it out.)
  2. Make three wells and add the vanilla to one, the vinegar to one and the oil to one.
  3. Pour the water over all and mix well.
  4. Immediately pour into a greased 8 inch pan and bake in a preheated 350˚F oven for 25-30 minutes. (A toothpick should come out with a crumb or two attached.)
  5. Let the cake cool in the pan at least five minutes before removing to cool on a rack.
  6. (Most directions tell you to mix this cake right in the baking pan but I prefer to mix it in a bowl. When I mixed and baked it in the pan, I couldn't get it out. If you plan to serve it in the pan, this wouldn't be a problem.)
  7. thick, all-fruit jam (raspberry or orange marmalade)

Bittersweet frosting
  • 11 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 11 tablespoons sugar (sucanot)
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegan margarine (Earth Balance)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Sift the cocoa, flour, salt and sugar into a heavy pot. (You don't want any lumps in the cocoa. If you start with lumps, you'll end up with lumps.)
  2. Slowly add the milk, a little at a time, and whisk to a smooth consistency.
  3. Heat to a very slow boil, stirring CONSTANTLY, reaching into the corners of the pot. This will burn and stick if you look away for a second.
  4. Turn the heat down and continue cooking and stirring until thick but still creamy, about five minutes.
  5. Turn off the heat and add the margarine and vanilla. Stir to mix in the melted margarine.
  6. Let cool a little and spread on a cooled cake. (It thickens as it cools. If it gets too cool, it may become hard to spread. You can add a very small amount of liquid to get it spreadable again.)
  1. Use a large serrated bread knife to carefully cut through the cake to split it into two layers. It's easiest if you cut into the cake a few inches then turn it and cut some more. Keep turning and cutting, gradually working towards the center. Turning and cutting the cake helps you keep the layers even.
  2. Use a large spatula to transfer the top of the cake to a large flat plate.
  3. Spread thick, all-fruit jam (raspberry or orange marmalade are nice) on the bottom layer. Use the spatula to place the top layer onto the bottom one.
  4. Frost the cake.