October 27, 2010

Kinky cat tales | Feeling parsnippity | Bakesale success

Recreated crime scene — blurred for 'effect.'

Once upon a time, a long time ago, our friends Ronnie and Earl had three cats. We had three cats too, and we often cared for each others' cats during vacations. Ronnie's cats were Siamese, and the male, Tico, was madly, crazily, in love with her. His intense devotion was, at times, kind of creepy. One evening when Ronnie and Earl were out of town, I headed to their apartment to give the cats food, water and attention, and change the litter box. When I opened the apartment door, my heart kind of stopped, and I froze, taking in a strange, dimly lit scene. The furniture was haphazardly draped with bras and panties, and I was paralyzed with the thought that a pervert had broken in, and might still be lurking in one of the rooms. It was eerily quiet, with no sign of the cats.

Then Tico, tail high and flicking back and forth, sauntered in with a deep Siamese mrrroouuww. "Tico," I said quietly, "did YOU do this?" "Mrrroouuw," he said, rubbing against my leg. "Where's Ronnie?"

Next, squat, clutzy Mei Ping shyly entered the room. "This has nothing to do with me," she said, avoiding the furniture. Finally, tiny, delicate Hampton bounded in on her teeny little paws. "Play with me," she mewed. Now surrounded by cats and feeling slighter calmer, but still unnerved, I cautiously entered the apartment and headed towards the other rooms, ready to flee at any moment, if necessary. The cats and I checked all the rooms and closets, and found them empty. In the bathroom, one lacy bra still hung on a drying rack. "You're a bad boy, Tico," I said. "I love you," he answered, with great sincerity.

I left the living room as I'd found it, furniture backs and seats bizarrely covered with underwear, for Ronnie to enjoy on her return. But I did warn her when she called to ask how the cats were, that Tico had been doing some redecorating. I didn't want her to be alarmed when she entered the room.

The weather over the past couple of days made me remember this cat story — you know, as in "raining cats and dogs." And since it's been rainy and cold, just like you, I've been thinking about, and eating, soup.

I've been wanting to make parsnip soup ever since I had it for lunch at Café Flora, a local vegetarian restaurant. It was so creamy and warming, every bite was a treat. To make my version, I used a pressure cooker because it's fast, and I love the way it seems to intensify flavors, but you could use a regular soup pot instead.

I could never have made a soup like this when my children were growing up — all three boys had an aversion to what they called, "white things." White things included mainly parsnips, turnips and celery root, all three of which I love. I used to try to sneak small amounts of these flavorful foods into soups by cutting them up really small or by making judicious use of the blender, but I could never fool the boys. "ARE THERE WHITE THINGS IN HERE?" one of them would always ask, in a voice filled with angst.

Well, hell yes, this soup is filled with white things, and it tastes great! And if I'd had celery root in the house, I definitely would have added some to the soup. Next time.

Mellow parsnip soup (serves four generously)
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • scant 1 teaspoon coarse salt (or more to taste)
  • 7 (or so) parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 organic potatoes, scrubbed and cut into small pieces
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 to 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons tahini (taste and decide)
  • 1 to 2 cups low sodium vegetable broth (more for thinner soup)
  • fresh ground pepper
  • garnish
  1. In a five quart pressure cooker, warm the oil a little and add the cumin seeds. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the seeds become fragrant and start to sizzle, about four minutes.
  2. Add the coriander and stir.
  3. Add the salt and stir.
  4. Add the parsnips, potatoes, celery and garlic, and stir to coat the vegetables.
  5. Add the water. Bring to pressure. Cook five minutes. Bring the pressure down and open the pot. (In a conventional pot, cut the veggies into small pieces and cook in the water until tender.)
  6. Add the tahini. With an immersion blender, blend until completely smooth and creamy, adding vegetable broth as needed to achieve your preferred texture. The soup should be fairly thick and creamy. (To use a regular blender, blend a small amount at a time, until all the soup is blended.)
  7. Grind in black pepper. Taste for seasonings.
  8. Place in bowls and add a green garnish of your choice. (I used shredded bitter greens, but parsley, coriander or green onions would all be good choices.

Bake sale success

Bethany and me at Sidecar Vegan Store, before the sale started.

Thanks to Bethany's refined organizational skills, the bake sale for Pig's Peace Animal Sanctuary was a huge success. A shocking amount of baked goods were donated to the sale, and at the end, only four pieces remained unsold! The grand total raised was $1,299. This was Bethany's last sale as organizer, and she deserves an award for all the hard work she's put into making these events successful. But I know she doesn't like awards so a big THANK YOU will have to suffice.

Bethany took photos of all the donated goods, and here's the one that shows some of my puffed rice bars. They were sitting on the same plate as filled chocolate whoopie pies, which was a little intimidating. It's kind of like choosing a brussels sprout instead of a fresh, ripe peach. Not that I don't like brussels sprouts ...

Here you can see my personal stash of purchased bake sale goods. Everything from gluten-free zucchini muffins to cinnamon buns. One of the coolest things about the sale was I got to meet some Seattle vegan bloggers — the writers of Bitt of Raw, and The Discerning Kitchen.


Farm Sanctuary Reveals 10 Fascinating Facts About Turkeys
Just in Time for Thanksgiving, Nation’s Leading Farm Animal Protection Organization Shares Little-Known Facts About America’s Favorite Holiday Bird

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – October 26, 2010 – Did you know that turkeys communicate their emotions by way of color changes in the skin on their necks, faces and snoods (the flap of skin that hangs over the turkey's beak)? And that a turkey’s snood turns bright red when he is upset or during courtship? This is just one of the fascinating facts about America’s favorite holiday bird being revealed by Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization, just in time for Thanksgiving. Having rescued more than 1,000 turkeys since 1986 and provided lifelong care for hundreds at their two world-renowned shelters located in Watkins Glen, New York and Orland, California, the organization is recognized as a foremost expert on these sensitive, intelligent and thoroughly fascinating birds. Those who don’t know a snood from a wattle (the flap of skin under the turkey's chin) are sure to be intrigued by the following little-known turkey facts:
  1. Turkeys recognize each other by their unique voices.
  2. Researchers have identified more than 20 distinct vocalizations in wild turkeys.
  3. Turkeys have excellent geography skills and can learn the specific details of an area of more than 1,000 acres.
  4. Like cats and dogs, turkeys are intelligent and sensitive animals who form strong social bonds and show great affection to others.
  5. On factory farms, turkeys frequently have the ends of their beaks and toes cut off without anesthesia — practices know as debeaking and detoeing — to prevent them from injuring one another as they are crowded by the thousands into dark, filthy warehouses.
  6. Between 1965 and 2000, the weight of the average turkey raised commercially in the U.S. increased by 57 percent, from an average of 18 pounds to an average of 28.2 pounds, causing commercially-bred turkeys to suffer from crippling foot and leg problems.
  7. Completely unlike their wild ancestors not only in terms of physique but also in hue, most commercial turkeys are totally white — the natural bronze color selectively bred out of them to eliminate uneven pigment colorations — because of consumer preference for even flesh tones. Also catering to consumer preferences for “white meat,” the industry has selectively bred turkeys to have abnormally large breasts. This anatomical manipulation makes it difficult for male turkeys to mount the females, eliminating these birds’ ability to reproduce naturally. As a result, artificial insemination is now the sole means of reproduction on factory farms, where breeder birds are confined for months on end.
  8. Turkeys, along with other poultry, are not protected by the federal Humane Slaughter Act, and are frequently killed without first being stunned.
  9. Every year, more than 46 million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving holiday dinners, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If you think these birds are as incredible as we do, you can join talk show host and animal advocate Ellen DeGeneres, Farm Sanctuary’s 2010 Adopt-A-Turkey Project spokesperson, in starting a new tradition this year by adopting a turkey instead of eating. Visit adoptaturkey.org for details or call the Turkey Adoption Hotline at 1-888-SPONSOR.
To learn more about these fascinating birds, be sure to check out the new Turkey Talk episode of Farm Sanctuary’s Reel Life at Farm Sanctuary video series. In this short, entertaining video, National Shelter Director Susie Coston introduces viewers to some special birds in the organization’s New York Shelter flock and talks a whole lot of turkey!

October 22, 2010

Puffed rice bars | Mexican Vegan dinner

Another bake sale in support of Pigs Peace Sanctuary is happening tomorrow at Sidecar vegan store in Seattle, and I just finished making a batch of puffed rice bars. I'm debating baking a load of carrot cupcakes but I'm not feeling quite in the mood. We'll see.

Many years ago in a tai chi class, I watched a video of street vendors in China making puffed rice squares. They boiled syrup, stirred in puffed rice, peanuts, dried fruit and I don't remember what else, and after pressing the mixture into pans, cut it into squares and sold it to eager customers. Something about the look of those bars caught my imagination, and as soon as I got home, I tried to create something similar. The tai chi teacher said that the syrup reminded her of barley malt syrup, so that's what I started with. I've made many variations of these over the years, but this is the basic recipe I started with. Gooey, crunchy, toasty and sweet with hints of salt from the peanuts, these make a great snack or dessert.

Barley malt is less sweet than other sweeteners such as maple syrup or agave, or even brown rice syrup, so if you like things on the sweet side, you might want to combine different ones to get the right balance. Or add 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar to the syrup before you cook it. The bars are plenty sweet for me.

Puffed rice bars
  • 6 cups puffed brown rice cereal (I used Nature's Path organic rice puffs)
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds, toasted in a pan
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup peanuts, roasted and salted
  • 1-1/4 cups barley malt
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  1. In a 425˚ oven, toast the cereal in a large pan for 8 minutes, stirring once or twice. This isn't essential but it intensifies the flavor.
  2. Toast the sunflower seeds in a heavy pan on the stove until fragrant and golden.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the cereal, sunflower seeds, raisins and peanuts, and mix well, distributing the ingredients evenly. It helps to use your hands.
  4. Heat the syrup in a 1-1/2 quart pot over low-medium heat, stirring constantly. The syrup will start to bubble and foam. Adjust the heat if necessary so the syrup doesn't overflow. Cook and stir for 7 minutes, then add the peanut butter and stir until completely melted, about a minute more.
  5. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  6. Pour the hot syrup mixture over the cereal mixture and quickly and thoroughly combine with a wooden spoon until all the cereal mix is completely coated.
  7. Press into a lightly oiled 10-1/2 x 15-1/2 inch pan, using the spoon. The mixture will cool quickly. Using wet hands, press it down into the pan, making it even and compact.
  8. Cool in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, then cut into pieces with a serrated knife or a pizza cutter.
  9. For best results store in the freezer or refrigerator. The bars soften at room temperature.
  10. I cut mine into 24 rectangles.
Notes: (1) You can use a different size pan. (2) I discovered I was out of raisins so I cut up dates. I may also have cut up a mini Lara apple pie bar because cutting dates is so slow. (3) Sometimes I make these with crispy brown rice instead of puffed, for a different texture. (4) Make them with brown rice syrup for gluten-free. (5) Don't try to clean up with cold water; it will harden the syrup. Use warm or hot water.


Monthly vegan dining event

We once again attended the monthly dinner sponsored by Vegetarians of Washington. This month's dinner was catered by Bonnie and Ray Parton of Lucky Palate catering and food delivery service. They served a colorful and delicious vegan Mexican meal. Bonnie said she's always willing to provide recipes, and I may take her up on her offer.

The menu: tortilla chips and salsa, Mexican squash casserole, black bean chili, Mexican roasted vegetables, red and white quinoa with collards, paella with Field Roast and red beans, spicy chipotle corn, flour and corn tortillas, strawberry crumble bar.

If you live in the Seattle area, consider coming to one of these events — you don't have to be vegan or vegetarian, though the food always is vegan. Bring containers with you if you come, there are always lots of leftovers to take home!

October 19, 2010

It's my birthday

I'm not a big celebrator of birthdays — mine, I mean. But I've definitely enjoyed this year's festivities, starting Sunday night with a family dinner at my son and d-i-l's house. My d-i-l made the most delicious lentil burgers and roasted potatoes. She found the red lentil burger recipe here, and they were excellent —crispy on the outside and light on the inside. She didn't make the yogurt sauce from the recipe, but subbed a vegan curried mustard sauce instead.

The burgers were supposed to be broiled but because the oven was in use, she cooked them in a pan with oil. For dessert we had fabulous cookies.

My son made a curried mustard sauce to top the burgers.

Today, my actual birthday, I went out to lunch with Bethany, and we went to Café Flora, an upscale restaurant with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free menu choices. I didn't take my camera, so I can only tell you I had a fragrant and wonderful root vegetable soup, a side of roasted potatoes, and bread with excellent olive oil. There was dessert, too, but I was too full to eat more than a yummy mouthful of nectarine upside-down cake and vanilla ice cream. I'm hoping to recreate a soup similar to the one we had, and post a recipe, soon.

Not only is the food delicious at Café Flora, the atrium where we ate is the place I would most like to live. While Bethany was off secretly arranging for the waitress to bring a candle to the table, I was lost in thought, picturing where I'd put the bed, the sofa and the studio! If only.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the friendly, enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable waitstaff. They are unfailingly helpful and kind.

Of course, my birthday wouldn't be complete without a dinner out with my husband. After much debate, we decided to go to Bamboo Garden Vegetarian Restaurant to indulge in my favorite hot pot — tofu skin (yuba) and mixed vegetables in Szechwan sauce.

Because I couldn't decide which yuba dish to order (and it was my birthday) we also ordered Golden Petals on Jade Platter (marinated, crispy-fried soy bean wrappers over stir-fried baby bok choy).

Back at home, my husband gave me a copy of Jonathan Franzen's new book, "Freedom," for a gift.

Going back to Sunday night again, after the family dinner we gave our middle son a ride back to his new apartment, and while we were there he brought out a collection of Polaroid photos that had been in my father's condo, and which my son came into possession of, after my father passed away two years ago. They were all photos of our family taken when our kids (and we) were very young. The above photo of my husband and me with our oldest son was taken when we were visiting my parents — so many years ago.

October 16, 2010

Horse(ing around) | World Bread Day

Some time ago, I watched this lovely video, and it brought back a couple of indelible horse memories. I haven't had much experience with horses, actually, these may be the only two, but they were both unforgettable. One was years ago during a trip to England when we detoured from our route to visit the edge of a moor; I had read about the wild ponies of Dartmoor, and was hoping to see them. Plus, Wuthering Heights was one of my favorite books, and although it took place in Yorkshire in a different location on a completely different moor, the romance and mystery of the moors was in my mind. Honestly, I figured I was more likely to see Heathcliff stumbling across the landscape than the ponies. But in a truly magical moment, I DID see them. They appeared out of nowhere, I looked into their eyes, and they looked into mine, and then they were gone.

The second memory is more down to earth, so to speak, and comes from a high school escapade. I attended an all girls, all-academic magnet school in a large urban city. As a whole, the girls at my school behaved well and did not cause trouble — me included. Every so often, though, one or two of us might get a subversive idea or two.

One gorgeous spring day, my friend Ricki and I decided to cut school and go horseback riding. I believe this was Ricki's idea, as I'd never been horseback riding, and it wasn't something I thought about doing. She knew a stable in Fairmount Park, and we went there to ride, in a group, with a guide. Up close to the horse assigned to me, I was shocked. He was about three times the size I was imagining, and once up in the saddle, I could see it was a long, long way to the ground. The guide assured me he was a gentle, obedient horse, and we headed off on a trail. We'd gotten some distance into the park when suddenly, without warning, my horse took off at a full gallop. I was stunned and horrified. Our guide took off after me, and for a few brief moments I imagined myself as "the heroine" on a runaway horse in a western, with the hero (red bandanna around his neck and cowboy hat on his head) chasing after me in rescue. Yeah, right.

We were in a huge urban greenway, with many trees and other obstacles, and my horse was dodging them at full speed. Then we headed towards a low, open building that would have cut the horse (and me) off at the neck. I figured this was it, but at the last second the horse swerved, and continued its mad run. I truly believed I was going to die, and I actually saw my entire life flashing before my eyes. It was pretty incredible — like a movie reel where each frame was a different event. I mean, I could literally SEE the movie film, frame by frame, in slow motion. It was brilliantly clear, and I was stunned at all the things I'd forgotten. I saw my life with new understanding, and some things that had been confusing were revealed with clarity. (Sounds a little like Lost.) Seeing all these scenes was amazing and uplifting, and I suddenly realized I didn't want to die. I told myself it was stupid and unnecessary to die because of this horse, in this park. (Remember, all this is taking place on horseback at about a million miles an hour, at super-human brain-speed!) I felt myself losing my balance, and decided the thing to do was to land softly. (I'm laughing here at the memory so it's OK if you laugh, too.) I didn't know exactly how to do this, but as I was headed over the side of the horse I did my best. Land softly, I thought ... land softly. Just land softly and everything will be OK.

Over the horse I went, landing on my back in the gravel. As I lay there afraid to move, the guide who'd been chasing after me without success (no bandanna, no cowboy hat), walked over to where I lay and said, "here's your shoe." I thought he should have been slightly more solicitous and asked if I was all right or if anything was broken. Perhaps I was slightly in shock. Eventually I got up and brushed the dirt and gravel from my clothes. Here my memory fades, and I can't remember why I wasn't escorted back to the stable and my friend. I wandered out of the park, clueless as to where I was, and eventually found a bus stop and made my way back home. By the time I arrived home, hours later, I was dizzy and my head hurt, so I confessed all to my mother and she called the doctor. I really had terrible luck whenever I cut school. Sheesh.

Had I been a little more creative, I'm sure I could have come up with a holiday to celebrate instead of just cutting school to go horseback riding. For example, I could have cut school to celebrate World Bread Day, and baked a bread instead of galloping off to the park. It would have been a lot simpler. But I didn't learn about World Bread Day until today, thanks to Hannah, who posted a spectacular celebratory bread on Bittersweet blog.

To celebrate, I made an easy bread (of course) but spectacular in its own way, with a crackly, crispy crust and tender crumb filled with olives and roasted garlic. I'm going to use World Bread Day to encourage everyone who "doesn't have time to bake" to consider trying the breads from Artisan bread in Five Minutes a Day or Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Once you get the hang of it, it really is easy to bake delicious breads with very little effort. You store the dough in the refrigerator and take it out to bake as needed. It becomes more and more sour as it stores, baking up into a sourdough-like bread. Yes, it really takes more than five minutes to let the dough rise and bake it of course, but it takes no time at all to shape a loaf if you have the dough on hand.

Before I made the olive and garlic bread, I had to use up the last of my refrigerated dough so I rolled it out and baked it into a flatbread on a cast iron skillet. We used it for lunch, filled with hummus and roasted peppers.

At the top of the post is a bread made from the basic HBin5 recipe and enhanced with caraway seeds. Happy World Bread Day!

October 11, 2010

Fine dining at Sutra

New England and red kuri pumpkin-leek soup with a garlic and marjoram gremolata served with a pickled treviso radicchio-roasted yellow beet and shaved fennel salad.

Sutra is now closed. We celebrated our anniversary Sunday night because the restaurant where we wanted to dine is closed on Mondays, our real anniversary. The restaurant, Sutra, creates gorgeous vegan food from organic, in-season, and, whenever feasible, local ingredients. The service is low-key but elegant, and the food, memorable.
The last time we were there, every bite of food produced a small murmur of appreciative delight. This time, while the food was beautiful, delicious, and perfectly prepared and plated, I wasn't quite as overwhelmed, as the dishes seemed more like something I might be able to approximate. On our last visit I felt completely outclassed in the kitchen. The biggest standout (and potentially unattainable kitchen challenge) for me were the amazing gnocchi — perfectly light little pillows of heavenly half-potato half-celery-root deliciousness in an equally wonderful spicy sauce.

Lemon basil-cashew cheese stuffed pimento pepper served with a beluga lentil-white chanterelle and porcini ragu.

The real problem I had was my hunger. I was quite hungry when we went to the restaurant (yes, I'd had breakfast and lunch) and the portions were so tiny, I was still a little hungry when we left. This may or may not have had something to do with the size of my second course compared to my husband's. My cashew cheese-stuffed pimento was like the little cousin to the one my husband had (his was perhaps about 2-1/2 inches in diameter, and is the one I photographed). My husband snarkily commented that perhaps the peppers were distributed by guest's size, and I only warranted a tiny one. Also, I had requested no shaved fennel on my salad, so my salad was smaller, too. But, really, I could have done with a bit more of everything except dessert, which was so rich and satisfying, more would have been excess.
Celery root gnocchi with an ambrosia apple-heirloom tomato-peach and limon habenero caponata served with fresh arugula finished with a balsamic reduction and truffle oil.

I don't mean to sound greedy, or unappreciative of elegant dining, but I did think the portions last night were awfully small. You can't tell from the close-up photos how small each item actually was; for example, the tiny cup of pear cider in the dessert photo was like a teacup in a child's tea set. There might be more syllables in each description than bites in each serving.
Ginger Asian pear cider with a raw cacao dusted Madagascar chocolate cardamom truffle.

So how much does this amazing food cost, you may be wondering. (Unless you're too polite to ask about cost.) The set price for the four course meal is $35 per person with all alcoholic or other beverages costing extra. Everyone is served the same meal at the same time.

If you are vegan or vegetarian, and in the Seattle area, don't miss a very special night out at the incredible Sutra, where vegetables are the stars, and no attempt is made to reproduce meat-like facsimiles. You will enjoy beautiful, delicious gourmet cuisine.

October 08, 2010

Sesame seed cookies with maple-tahini icing

Every month I think I'm going to enter something in the Sweet or Savory Kitchen Challenge, and every month goes by in a flash and I miss it. Not this month. This month features sesame seeds, and I've made sesame seed cookies with maple-tahini icing. The cookies feature a half cup of toasted sesame seeds which gives them the most wonderful flavor. If you like the taste of sesame, you'll love these.

Baking the cookies is a little tricky; the sweet spot just as the cookies turn golden and right before they burn, is what you're aiming for. You want them to be crisp and toasty, but not burned. Even if they get a little too dark, I can tell you from experience they'll still taste great. But they're best just before that point.

When making the icing, measure the tahini VERY carefully in level tablespoons because too much will overpower the maple syrup. I'm extremely careful about this. Also, don't skip the cooking of the maple syrup. This step is what enables the icing to harden after it's spread on the cookies.

The first step is to pan-toast the sesame seeds. I like to use a cast iron pan, but any heavy pan will do. Use a medium low heat and stir the seeds frequently. After a few minutes they'll start to turn golden and fragrant, and start to pop. Turn off the heat and keep stirring until they are evenly toasted. Taste a few to see if they taste roasted, and if they crunch easily.

Sesame seed cookies with maple-tahini icing
(makes 18 cookies)
Preheat oven to 325˚ F
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted (see story)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice (Sucanot)
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Toast the seeds as described in the story above.
  2. Beat the sugar and oil together with a spoon in a large bowl.
  3. Beat in the milk and vanilla.
  4. Sift or whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder in a small bowl.
  5. Add the flour mix to the sugar mix and combine well.
  6. Stir in the sesame seeds.
  7. Form into small balls and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Flatten with the bottom of a wet glass or with your wet finger tips. The cookies should be thin. (Don't get them too wet!)
  8. Bake 20 to 25 minutes at 325˚ F. Watch carefully so they turn golden but don't burn. (See story.)
  9. Cool on a rack.
Maple-tahini icing
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 3 LEVEL tablespoons raw tahini (see story)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • few grains os salt
  1. Place the 1/4 cup of maple syrup in a small pot. Cook over medium low heat until it starts to bubble. Cook and stir for 3 minutes, bubbling gently, then turn off the heat and quickly whisk in the 3 tablespoons of tahini, vanilla and salt. Whisk the mixture until it's perfectly smooth and a little glossy.
  2. Now work fast because the icing will harden quickly. Spread some icing on each cooled cookie. You should have just enough for 18 crispy cookies.
note: These cookies freeze well and taste great right from the freezer. They don't taste frozen, they taste crisp.


Feeling creative?
Tandoor Chef sent me the following press release:

In celebration of National Pizza Month, Tandoor Chef, the
leader in restaurant quality, all natural frozen Indian cuisine, has launched its first annual “Naan Your Average Pizza Contest.”
From October 1 through October 30, 2010, consumers are encouraged to submit an original naan pizza recipe using any variety of Tandoor Chef’s naan bread for a chance to win free Tandoor Chef products from November 2010—February 2011.

Recipes can be entered online at TandoorChef.com/October. Tandoor Chef is encouraging pizza lovers nationwide to get creative in the kitchen with this unique Indian Italian fusion contest and hoping to inspire chefs next door with their newly launched Original Naan Pizza. Entries will be judged based on the pizza’s flavor, appeal and creative use of naan. One grand prize winner will be selected, as well as a second and third place winner. Tandoor Chef’s nationwide search for original naan-based pizza recipes will allow Tandoor Chef consumers, and all pizza lovers, to get creative with this new flavor sensation, which is taking the nation by storm. Tandoor Chef’s original naan pizza recently won a grand prize “Tasty” award from Cooking Light and naan pizza was also the winning dish for The Next Food Network Star, Aarti “Paarti” Sequeira.

The grand prize winner will have their recipe featured on Tandoor Chef’s website, Tandoorchef.com, and Tandoor Chef’s Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandoorChef and win free Tandoor Chef Naan Pizzas throughout the winter. One second place winner will receive two free Naan Pizzas each month throughout November—February and one third place winner will receive naan pizzas for one month.

To enter the contest, individuals can complete an entry form online at TandoorChef.com or simply send a post card or 3” x 5” index card with their name, address and contact information, along with their original recipe to “Tandoor Chef’s Naan Your Average Pizza Contest” c/o 6116 Cleveland Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43231. No purchase is necessary to participate.

Tandoor Chef, produced by Deep Foods, is a second-generation family owned and operated leading manufacturer of Indian cuisine. Tandoor Chef is committed to producing restaurant quality, all natural frozen Indian food.

I reviewed Tandoor Chef products on this blog here, and here.

October 05, 2010

Raw Food Made Easy

Many years ago, My husband, youngest son and I spent 10 fabulous days in Barcelona, where my husband gave a talk at a conference. Barcelona was our base, and there was so much to see in the city we had no trouble filling our time, but we made a spur of the moment decision to take the train to Costa Brava for a little adventure. I made a list of hotel possibilities, and we set about calling each one, only to be told there were no rooms. Finally, we found a reasonably priced hotel with space, and we were off. The long, complicated hotel name was in Spanish, of course, but there was something so familiar about it; I just couldn't put my finger on what it was.

While we were on the train, it suddenly hit me where we were going, and at the moment of my recognition, my husband said, "I wonder if we'll find anything to eat." "I don't think that will be a problem," I answered. "We're staying at a Hippocrates Institute." If you don't know what that is (my husband didn't) it's a raw foods healing center. (Founded in 1956 by Ann Wigmore, the Hippocrates Institute has its main center in West Palm Beach, Florida, and I don't know if the one in Costa Brava was associated with the one in Florida, or not, but it sounded similar.) The hotel — large, old and slightly eerie — was perched high on a hill overlooking the city. The rooms were comfortable but vaguely hospital-like, and we may have been the only guests not walking around in thick, white terrycloth robes and receiving treatments, but we did attend all the meals. The food was a spectacular array of raw, vegan dishes — everything from massive displays of gorgeous fresh fruits, veggies and salads, to gourmet preparations of intricate raw food dishes. We were in heaven.

I like raw food, and would like to add more into my diet, but raw food cuisine beyond the basics of whole raw fruits, veggies and smoothies, can seem complicated and time consuming, which is why I was excited to receive a copy of "Raw Food Made Easy for 1 or 2 People," by Jennifer Cornbleet.

The author has chosen easy and delicious recipes "that can be made in minutes, that work every time, and that can be eaten every day." She's divided the book into sections for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, and has provided a list of equipment and pantry staples as well as a weekly shopping list, to make food preparation easier. There were so many recipes I wanted to try it was hard to pick just one, but I chose the Not Salmon Paté variation of Not Tuna Paté, partly because it sounded interesting, and partly because I had the ingredients. At least I thought I did. I didn't have celery so used parsley instead. The finished paté looked good and tasted great.

Not Salmon Paté (reprinted with permission) makes 1/2 cup, 2 servings
  • 1/2 cup soaked raw sunflower seeds (soaked 6 to 8 hours)
  • 1/4 cup soaked raw almonds (soaked 8 to 12 hours)
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons minced celery
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill weed or 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
  1. Place the seeds, almonds, water, lemon juice and salt in a food processor fitted with the S blade and process into a paste. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  2. Transfer to a small mixing bowl and stir in the celery,onion and dill. Mix well.
  3. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to five days.
So what did I do with the paté? There are several suggested ways to use the paté in the recipe sidebar, and ironically, I decided to make sushi, which was one of the suggestions, though I didn't realize it. Ms. Cornbleet calls the dish Not Tuna Rolls, and I didn't look at the recipe. I wish I had. My nori rolls were filled with only paté, shredded carrots and baby greens, and were gorgeous and quite delicious, but hers also contained avocado, which would have made them even better.

My version of the rolls, using baby greens and carrots

Here is Jennifer Cornbleet's recipe:
Not tuna rolls (reprinted with permission) makes 2 rolls, 1 serving
  • 2 nori sheets
  • 2 teaspoons mellow white miso
  • 2 cups alfalfa or clover sprouts
  • 1/2 ripe avocado, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup not tuna paté
  • 1/4 cup grated carrot
  • 1/4 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • tamari for dipping (optional)
  1. Lay one sheet of nori, shiny side down, on a bamboo sushi mat
  2. Spread 1 teaspoon of miso in a single horizontal line anywhere along the the bottom third of the nori.
  3. Along the edge of the nori closest to you, layer the sprouts, avocado, paté, carrot and pepper.
  4. To roll, grip the edge of the nori sheet and the mat with your thumbs and forefingers, and press the filling back toward you with your other fingers. Using the mat to help you, roll the front edge of the nori over the filling. Squeeze it with the mat, then lift the mat away and continue rolling.
  5. Just before completing the roll, dip your finger in water and run it along the far edge of the nori to help seal the seam.
  6. Cut the roll into 6 pieces with a serrated knife. Make the second roll.
  7. Serve with tamari for dipping if desired.
note: For more detailed directions (with photos) on how to roll sushi, click here. The directions are for traditional sushi with rice but could be helpful if you've never made sushi before.

Full disclosure: The cookbook described in this post was sent to me free of charge by the publisher. No attempt was made by the publisher to influence my review, nor was I paid to write a review.

October 01, 2010

Japanese Cooking | Japanese stewed vegetables

When I was growing up, my mother made her special sweet potato casserole for every holiday dinner. It was filled with apple and pineapple chunks, and topped with marshmallows, which melted and toasted in the oven. All the adults at the table would rave about the concoction, assuring its appearance at the next holiday meal, but when the dish made its way around the table to me, I would carefully remove one marshmallow with the barest amount of sweet potato clinging to it, and place it on my plate. "You really should taste the casserole," my mother would say. "Yes. yes" came the echo around the table." I AM tasting it," I'd reply.

A similar thing happened whenever my mother made baked sweet potatoes. "I can't understand why you don't like these," my father would say. I just didn't like the taste or the smell. It took me years to develop a taste for sweet potatoes, and because they're similar in so many ways, for winter squash. And although I now cook, eat and really enjoy these vegetables, mainly roasted or in savory soups, I still don't consider them favorites — I'm more of a broccoli and kale person. When I see winter squash at the farmers market, my huge enthusiasm for buying them, I now realize, has more to do with their amazing beauty, and the variety of their shapes and sizes, than for their culinary potential. And I'm also suckered in by their names. How can I resist a squash called "butternut," or "delicata" or "kabocha?" The kabocha pumpkin pictured here was purchased to use in a Japanese donburi, or one-bowl meal, that I wanted to make from my new cookbook.

I received a copy of "Japanese Cooking, Contemporary & Traditional" by Miyoko Nishimoto Schinner from the Book Publishing Company, and, as a big fan of Japanese cuisine, was eager to try some recipes. Most of the recipes I was first attracted to involved making konbu-shiitake dashi, and if you recall my last post, (black worms, anyone?), you'll know why my enthusiasm was momentarily dampened. But I decided to "get right back on the horse" so to speak, and a new bag of dried shiitake mushrooms entered the kitchen.

I finally settled on a recipe for stewed vegetables, and because the sidebar on the recipe page said that "it was more of a method for cooking vegetables" than a recipe, I decided to use the resulting vegetables as a major component of a dish, rather than a dish by itself.

As the seaweed and mushrooms for the dashi, or stock, soaked, I was obsessed with any black dots or foreign-looking matter that appeared in the bowl. I picked and scraped, and generally harassed those mushrooms until they were pristine. I was tense.
Kobocha pumpkin was just one of the vegetable choices given in my chosen recipe, and although I had planned to combine several veggies, I ended up with so much cut up squash, I just used that. The directions said the skin was edible and the kobocha didn't need to be peeled, so I left it unpeeled, just scrubbing and scraping away any weird stuff. The pumpkin was very hard (as in VERY HARD) to cut. Using a recently sharpened Japanese chef knife, I got a good workout. I was surprised that it only took about 15 minutes to cook.

The recipe was simple, requiring only the pumpkin, dashi, a small amount of sweetener, mirin, and, near the end of cooking, soy sauce. As I was adding the ingredients to the pot, I have to be honest and admit to not looking forward to eating the result. My "squash-avoidance attitude" was kicking in, and I was also remembering that I didn't love the very dry, flaky texture of kabocha. It didn't look that good to me, and the broth at first had a slightly weird and fishy taste from the konbu. And the shiitake.

When I tasted the finished product I was shocked — it was fabulously delicious. How did that happen? The simple ingredients had magically transformed. I used the cooked pumpkin and its broth as the basis for a one-pot dish, adding fried tofu (purchased in an Asian market) and serving it over soba (the thin Japanese noodles made from buckwheat). The dish was a huge success. The next day, I added frozen corn and ate it for lunch, and the day after that I added Swiss chard and ate it yet again. I'd eat it right now if there were any left!

"Japanese Cooking" published in 1999, is a very handy collection of vegan, traditional and contemporary Japanese recipes. It contains a group of seasonal menu ideas, a useful glossary for those not familiar with Japanese ingredients, and a collection of easy-to-prepare recipes under headings such as rice dishes, soups and stews, cooking with tofu, fried dishes, salads and cold vegetables, noodles, etc. Many of the dishes will require a trip to an Asian grocery or well-stocked natural foods store to purchase Japanese specialty food such as miso, konbu, enoki, konnyaku, cooking saki (mirin). If you have an interest in learning about everyday Japanese cuisine, this little book might be a good place to start.

Stewed Vegetables (reprinted with permission)
  • 4 to 6 cups large bite-sized pieces peeled carrots, daikon, bamboo shoots, lotus root, or kabocha pumpkin
  • fresh or reconstituted shiitake, sliced
  • approximately 2 cups konbu broth (to barely cover vegetables)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sweetener of choice
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  1. Place vegetable pieces and shiitake in a pot, and pour broth over to barely cover.
  2. Add the sweetener and mirin, partially cover, and simmer until tender.
  3. Add the soy sauce and simmer for 5 or 6 more minutes. Vegetables should be soft. (except for lotus root, if using)
  4. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
notes: I added fried tofu purchased from an Asian grocery and cut into bite-sized pieces, with the soy sauce. The cooked vegetables and broth were ladled over soba, into individual bowls.

When I made my dashi, I used both dried shiitakes and konbu since I needed the mushrooms for the recipe, anyway. To make dashi: (reprinted with permission) Soak a 3 x 4-inch piece of konbu and 5 large or 10 small dried shiitake in 1 quart of water for at least 2 hours. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the shiitake and konbu; they can be used for other dishes.

Miyoko Nishimoto Schinner is also the author of "The Now and Zen Epicure: Gourmet Cuisine for the Enlightened Palate."
disclaimer: The cookbook described in this post was sent to me free of charge by the publisher. No attempt was made by the publisher to influence my review, nor was I paid to write a review.