I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Down time


There has been a bit of, well, inactivity here at WTM. Won't be much today, and the activity is a reworking of a previous recipe (way to get out of any real work, Carolyn!) There have been a few more hobbies that have kind of butted in to the cooking and gardening aspect of life (vintage sewing machine collection! and quilting! in addition to kitten acquisition!) and the blogging aspect sort of got pushed aside.  

The kitten acquisitions, Sylvan and Terra, are pictured on the right from about a year or so ago, before they turned into Actual  Cats with Personalities. Today they are very happy to help with the new hobbies, such as laying on quilt tops, knocking fabric on the floor, playing with sewing machine parts, and various other destructive entertaining behaviors. But who's complaining? No really! 

There's still been some cooking going on (remind me to tell you about the Wild Rice and Mushroom Pilaf: a keeper; and Porcini Mushroom Stuffing: ditto) however someone forgot to record it. They were probably busy cleaning up sewing machine parts.

The scrambled tofu seasoning recipe offered today comes from a while back (as confessed above) and has been revised and herbed-up some. There was a little too much black salt (the egg-y, sulphur-y salt) in the first go-round for my taste and not enough herbs, so for your consideration, here is version 2.0. Next step- work the seasoning into little make-ahead tofu quiches that can be slapped on a toasted bagel shmeared with some Earth Balance. Breakfast on the run!

Scrambled Tofu Seasoning Mix

4  cups nutritional yeast
3 Tbs. onion granules
2½ Tbs. sea salt
2 Tbs. dried chives
2 Tbs. dried dill weed
1½ tsp. black salt (kala namak, found at Indian grocers or online if your local grocer/health food store does not carry it)
1 Tbs. dried cilantro
1 Tbs. garlic granules
1 Tbs. dried parsley
1 Tbs. dried crumbled sage
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. ground black pepper
1½ tsp. turmeric
1½ tsp. dried ground chile powder
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. ground celery seed

Blend all ingredients well or pulse in a food processor and store in an airtight jar. I keep the bulk of this recipe in about a quart sized jar in the pantry and a smaller amount (in a re-purposed olive jar) on the counter for spur of the moment scrambles. 

A good guide is to start with about a tablespoon per 4 oz. crumbled tofu (but use more or less to taste to suit your own druthers). Saute up some veggies first, if you want to be fancy (mushrooms, onions, and peppers are my faves), add crumbled tofu and stir fry to heat through, then add the seasoning and continue to saute to distribute seasoning evenly. If time allows, take the pan off the heat and cover for 5 - 10 minutes to allow the seasoning a little more time to infuse.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Here's lookin' at you, kid


OK. Another lame-ass post to fill up space. Activity will resume! Recipes, gardening, and political complaints will ensue! Many things have come to pass here at WTM, none any more important or dramatic than anybody else's, but they've been great excuses to not hunker down and contribute to the blogosphere. However posting is fixin' to resume and bring with it lots more aimless meandering.

I just saw today that Vegan Dad will stop posting due to needing to get on with his life. A sad day for those of us who follow alternatives to standard American "cuisine", but it's OK because Vegan Dad actually made a contribution to the general welfare. I have decided that I must do the same before I am allowed to "retire" from blogging, so the world is stuck with my erratic, unfocused blathering for a while yet.

Sorry. But Happy New Year anyway, all!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How to eat the view


Yes, a very long time between posts, and there is some activity here in the garden and kitchen at WTM (not much recently, but some). The latest kitchen adventure will be along shortly, but in the meantime, have a look at this bit of inspiration- I have been threatening to tear up the front yard for ages, and Pam Warhurst may just help me bring my threats to fruition.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Whole lotta shakin' goin' on


This week is starting out pretty annoying. After a relatively quiet couple of months without recurring tummy troubles (i.e., IBS), my innards decided to start some tectonic rumbling again. So I'm home today trying to get them calmed down.

It's definitely a soup day, gray and threatening, even without the tummy issues. So as luck would have it, I have been craving black bean soup for a week or so and made up a huge pot last night.

My doctor has told me that upping the fiber in my diet would help soothe the plumbing, and with my diet being plant-based I should know this.

Plus I should also know that I can't keep shoving food in my mouth like I'm in a race to the finish line. Too many years as a hairdresser in the previous life gave me very bad eating habits.

The upside is that this soup turned out really good, so lunches for the rest of the week are taken care of. Now I just have to learn to take care of the rest of me.

Black Bean Soup with Corn and Tomatoes

1 Tbs. neutral oil
1 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbs. chile powder, or to taste, such as Guajillo or New Mexico (I like these as they're not too incendiary)
1 Tbs. ground cumin, or to taste
½ tsp. black pepper, or to taste

4 cups vegetable broth (such as Better Than Bouillon)
1 lb. dry black beans, soaked and cooked until tender, or 4 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1½ cups fresh or frozen/thawed corn, or a 15 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained and rinsed
2 medium-large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced, or a 14-15 oz. can petite diced tomatoes with juice

Optional: ¼ cup or so minced cilantro, to stir in at the end of cooking

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.

Sauté onion through garlic for 5-10 minutes until onion is tender.

Add chili powder through black pepper, and sauté for 1 minute.

Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree soup to desired texture. Stir in the minced cilantro if using.

Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. I found I didn't have to add any salt as the Better Than Bouillon concentrate I made the broth with had plenty. Serve with cornbread (recipe to follow).

This could also be made in a crock pot. Saute the vegetables first, add everything to the crock pot, and cook on low for a few hours.

Adapted from a recipe at AllRecipes.com.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A message from the Easter B!




Hope everyone has a hoppin' day- weather is gorgeous in the mid-A for the holiday weekend.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chikin soup for the rattled soul


Here we are with winter having come and blessedly departed with little more than a feeble attempt at winter-ness, and a spring shaping up to be one of the more pleasant ones in recent memory. I should be dancin'.

Unfortunately, for over a month now I've had my grumble panties on, due to a recent experience with Microsoft involving their new operating system, which I swore I would never buy, as I was bound and determined to switch to Ubuntu (I may still be Microsoft-free some day, just not yet).

I weakened and put Windows 7 Home on my aging desktop computer in November 2011, and I hate to admit it but really, they did something right this time. I actually LIKE this iteration. Everything was fine until February 19.

When Microsoft decided I wasn't genuine anymore. Excuse me?

I was genuine for over three months: activation went fine, updates went fine, everything went fine. Until February 19. I tried to get a response from Microsoft for a month, and finally talked to someone in Uzbekistan (I think) today who actually gave me some information. And although my accent didn't always understand his accent, eventually we got to an answer.

The seller blocked my product key because I returned the product. Excuse me again?

I'm not quite sure how exactly you would return a download, but for some reason this seller decided I did so. At least that's what Microsoft is telling me. So now I have a second email in to the seller (forgot to mention before that I did contact them as soon as it happened, and got no response). We shall see if this begets a response.

So you know what happens when your product key gets blocked? Well, you still have some semblance of 'use' of your computer, with lots of adventures thrown in. Your desktop wallpaper reverts to black, your computer crashes frequently, and you drink even more wine than normal. So given that I'm pretty much out of my Goth stage and would prefer not to have black wallpaper, I am keeping my fingers crossed that this seller ponies up and sprinkles the genuine dust on me again.

And that leads me to the recipe for today. Which falls squarely in my repertoire of things you don't really need a recipe for. Even though I am bird free, I love me a good chikin noodle soup when the world is rattling my cage. Here's how I've been getting unrattled.

Also, please don't mind the crappy photo, the soup tastes a lot better than it looks here. I grabbed this shot at work under fluorescent lights with splashes all over the bowl because I was madly shoveling soup in my face while working, and I hadn't taken a decent picture at home. My keyboard is pretty gross looking, but the soup? This one always taste like more.

Chikin Noodle Soup

1 Tbs. Earth Balance margarine or olive oil
8 oz. Trader Joe's Chicken-less Strips, or similar seitan strips, homemade if you have some on hand

1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

6 cups water
2 Tbs. vegan chicken-style broth paste or powder (I used Better Than Bouillon Vegan Chicken Broth concentrate, and it is REALLY good), enough for six cups
2 bay leaves
salt to taste (if broth is not salted)
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped (I forgot it, but use some if you have it)
4 oz. small pasta shapes (~1 cup), such as farfalline (seen here) or small shells

Heat the margarine or oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Add the veggie strips and sauté to brown a bit, about 5 minutes. Remove strips to a small bowl or plate and set aside.

If necessary, add more margarine or oil to the pan and sauté onion through garlic for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are beginning to soften.

Add the water, broth paste/powder, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the veggie strips, parsley, and pasta. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until pasta is just al dente. Add salt (if necessary), and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Inspired by a recipe at Chow Vegan.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Get yer Irish on


Though I tried to get a potluck going on at work this week to celebrate St. Patty's Day, somehow it fell through the cracks. We ended up with donuts, green cookies, and my contribution of Colcannon. Kind of an unusual potluck, agreed, but hopefully we will all be on the same page next year and people will actually be NOTIFIED that we are having a potluck.

Growing up, I only remember having corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. Must be because that's what Dad's mother made when he was growing up (my Mom swore Dad would not eat anything his mother didn't make). So somehow I got a wild hair this year, and decided to make an Irish dish for St. Patty's, choosing Colcannon because A.) I love potatoes, and B.) I love potatoes. But I don't mind me some greens either. I've made mashed potato casserole thingies on many occasions that involved spinach and onions, and have loved them every time, but OMG - potatoes, leeks, and kale win hands down over any other combination I've ever tried before.

This is yet another score that will become a permanent part of the recipe files, so why didn't I ever eat or make this before? Colcannon has only been around for at least three hundred years, and like many other simple, frugal country dishes, is brain-dead simple to make, and impossibly delicious. I'll be feelin' me Irish more frequently in the future, I can tell already.

Colcannon

3 lbs. (about 6 medium-large) russet potatoes , peeled and chopped in about 2" chunks

8 oz. chopped kale (or other greens of choice), trimmed of tough stems

1 large leek, halved lengthwise, washed of debris, sliced in ½ " pieces (about 1½ - 2 cups)
4 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 cup milk (I use unsweetened soy milk)
¼ cup Earth Balance margarine or similar fat
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
½ tsp. pepper, or to taste
¼ tsp. ground mace or nutmeg (optional)
2 Tbs. minced herbs, such as chives and parsley

Place potatoes in a large pan with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place kale in the bottom of a steamer in an inch or two of water. Place the steamer basket above the kale, add the leeks and garlic, cover, and bring water to a simmer. Steam until the vegetables are tender.

When potatoes are tender, drain and return to the pan on medium-low heat, stirring a bit to remove excess water.

Mash the potatoes, stir in the cooked vegetables, and then add milk through seasonings and herbs. Blend everything gently and heat through before serving.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

And the winner is...


Not me. The chili cookoff mentioned in the last post had 12 entries, 3 of them vegetarian! I was impressed. Mine didn't win (it was adapted from a recipe here), but frankly it wasn't very good that day. I did it in the crockpot overnight, but something happened to the veggie sausage during the lengthy cooking period . It almost tasted bitter (but it got burned a little on the surface, too).

Note to self: do not use veggie sausage next time, and do not crockpot overnight. Four hours on low would have been plenty.

The second and third days it was a whole different animal. About a tenfold improvement, so I think the bitter edge mellowed out with resting. But it really didn't need the sausage anyway, as I also used veggie crumbles, so here is the winning (at my house anyway) version.

I wouldn't change anything else, except for maybe a bit more chile powder next time. The last bowl had the most heat, naturally, because it infused the longest; the problem was I forgot to take a picture of ANY of the bowls. So pictured instead is my fave chile powder, ground at home from whole dried New Mexico chiles. It beats out any chile powder I have ever purchased commercially.

To make your own homemade chile powder, just break well dried chiles into small pieces and whirl in a spice grinder a little at a time. But don't stick your face in the cloud of chile dust when you open the grinder (why did I think that was a good idea?)!

Chili with Red Wine
At least 8 servings

2 Tbs. oil

2 cups diced onion
2 cups diced sweet pepper
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos, minced

12 oz. ground veggie crumbles

2 Tbs. chile powder (such as New Mexico; I will probably try a little more with the next batch as New Mexico chiles are not way up there on the heat scale)
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1 Tbs. cocoa powder
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
2 bay leaves

1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup Pinot Noir or similar red wine
2 (15 oz.) cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained, or mix with another good chili bean
4 Tbs. tomato paste

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion through jalapeño, and cook until beginning to soften. Add veggie crumbles and heat through, stirring frequently.

Add chile powder through bay leaves and cook for a minute to coat all ingredients. Stir in tomatoes through tomato paste and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Alternatively, add everything to a crockpot, and cook on low for a few hours).

Uncover and simmer another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the bay leaves. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve with toppings of choice.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Spring, or something like it?


This happens every year. I get all excited when the daffodils start threatening to pop, and the silver maple flowers start falling, and then we get nailed at least a few more times before spring actually arrives.

However, caution was thrown to the wind here at WTM when I put the indoor wintering herb pots back out on the deck a couple of days ago. It's only in the high forties so far this morning and I saw ice in the bottom of a plant pot earlier, but the winter garden gods can just kiss my grass, we're getting near the end.

Today we're doing Dad's 86th birthday at his house and I'm taking a pumpkin spice cake with orange cream cheese frosting based on this recipe. Had a chili cookoff at work yesterday and there's still enough chili (which was adapted from this recipe) for lunches this weekend. So hopefully some recipes will follow shortly.

In the meantime, go out and find yourself some signs of spring!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Back in black


To get back to where we were, before being so rudely interrupted by political posts, this week begat a new nibble meal. For a year or so I've had this recipe for the Baja Fresh (BF) dark salsa clone from the Top Secret Recipes guy (I bought it from him, but it's also all over the internet if you do a search).

Not being a particularly rabid salsa fan otherwise, the Salsa Baja at this chain is something I could swim in forever and never tire of. Others have declared the same thing. I stop at BF from time to time and order a veggie tostada just to eat the aforementioned salsa. It is rich, black, and smoky, and not at all sweet. So I finally set about trying to make it at home.

And it worked! My result was not nearly as black as the original (probably because I did not use a grill; time to get the George Foreman out of the storage unit), and it was also thicker, but it was so good I may like mine better. I think what everybody loves is the smokiness, as the ingredients are really just standard salsa fare.

The clone recipe calls for roasting whole, cold tomatoes on a grill, and adding a jalapeno pepper halfway through roasting, turning to blacken all the sides evenly. Per the suggestion of another commenter somewhere on the internet, I cut my tomatoes in half and roasted them in the toaster oven cut side down for about 40-45 minutes, and since the sides weren't getting any blacker after 40, that is probably enough time. I also forgot to get a jalapeno on the last grocery store trip so I used a bit of chipotle chili sauce from canned chilies at the end instead of the roasted jalapeno. NOW we got some smoky goin' on, citizens!

Other departures from the cloned recipe include halving it (which may also explain why it is not as dark as the original), and adding a bit more tomatoes, lime juice, onions, and cilantro. I add more veggies anyway when I get the fixins off the Baja Fresh salsa bar- one portion cup of the salsa baja, one of the salsa fresca, one of chopped cilantro, plus a wedge or two of sliced lime- mix and squeeze and apply lavishly. So if you want a less chunky result more like the original salsa itself at BF, cut the veggie proportions in half and add more water to taste.

Serving suggestion for a super Super Bowl- line a shallow serving bowl or casserole with chips, add a sprinkling of chili beans or some Texas Caviar, then a drizzle of black salsa, a drizzle of nacho sauce, and a few dollops of sour cream (my preference is non-dairy), as well as some extra minced onion and jalapeno for the top. Serve with wedges of fresh lime for squeezing over the bowl.

Black Salsa

3 medium-large tomatoes, cut in half

½ tsp. chipotle chile sauce
1 medium clove garlic, peeled
½ tsp. salt

¾ cup water
1 Tbs. lime juice

1 small-medium tomato (such as a Roma), diced
2 Tbs. onion, diced
2 Tbs. cilantro, minced

Set oven to 450 degree F. Place the three medium-large cut tomatoes cut side down on a baking tray with sides on the upper rack of the oven (a toaster oven works fine and saves energy). Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until the skins are very charred.

Allow tomatoes to cool a bit until you can comfortably handle. Add roasted tomatoes (with any liquid) through salt to a blender, and puree on high until thoroughly smooth. Add water and lime juice and blend again on high for 30 seconds.

Pour the mixture into a bowl. Add the diced tomato, onion, and cilantro, fold in gently, and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate a few hours to blend flavors.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Did you post your question yet?


Sorry this blog has gotten political and partisan recently but I hope to remedy that soon. The SOTU (State of the Union address) is tonight, did you post your question? Whether Democrat, Republican, Independent, or Plaid, don't miss your opportunity.

Here's mine:

President Obama, thank you for this opportunity. As a Democrat and taxpayer, I support swifter action to reign in excess spending in a responsible manner. Please outline some of the programs/functions we can streamline to reduce duplicative function.
ceblakeney, Annapolis, MD

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Challenges


To celebrate the new year and the current presidential campaign excesses season, without driving ourselves off a cliff or to a monastery, let us pause and reflect on some of the challenges we are facing in the modern u. s. of a. One of them being the current, unending, debilitating, and execrable debate about health care. Or perhaps the more correct phrase would be sick care.

Used to be people went to the doctor when necessary, and did not need health insurance to be able to do so. When did it become impossible to afford a simple doctor visit? When we started expecting somebody else to fix the results of our lifestyles, that's when.

I do not advocate expecting somebody else to fix the results of our lifestyles. And I did not care for all of the components of the legislation the party opposing Barack Obama is trying to disembowel. The desirable components I do support are the ones that give access to all of us, no matter our station in life. The undesirable components are those that ensure insurance companies will continue to profit from our inability to manage our own lifestyles, through mandatory insurance requirements. Cha-ching!

However, this legislation certainly did get the opposing party's attention, didn't it?

Where was that attention when I, and many millions of others, were going to work every day, paying our mortgages and other debts, and contributing the best we were able, while not making enough to cover the insurance premiums, and therefore being locked out of the general sick care system? This situation has been going on for decades, so where was the attention? Seems like unless our success mirrored that of certain presidential candidates, we weren't invited. And in my 54 years, I have never taken a scrap of welfare outside of my tax deductions (OK, welfare by another name) which don't hold a candle to those of the average "successful" presidential candidate. So no, I wasn't living on the taxpayer's dime (but there was the occasional bail-out from my parents).

My own solution was to live my life as best I could in order to not require services from the sick care industry. I was young, and relatively bulletproof, and the adoption of a vegetarian diet no doubt helped (but I won't be surprised if there is blow-back from some in the non-veg contingent).

Eventually I scratched and crawled my way through the gauntlet of higher education to complete a couple of college degrees and land a position with an independent state agency (self-funded; a fee-for-service agency of the state of MD) where I can more effectively support myself, contribute to the well-being of my state, and where my employer picks up 80% of my sick care premiums. If I were an independent contractor in a similar position, with a similar salary, the total premium would be far higher than what it is now, and I would not be able to pay it.

Being older now, and not as bulletproof, there have been a lot of doctor visits over the past couple of years. Probably more than in the combined previous thirty+ years of my adult life. Maybe because I let a whole lot of health issues slide that should have been addressed years ago. Walking in the door of my sick care provider now costs at LEAST a hundred dollars, often more; my copay is only fifteen of that hundred due to being enrolled in an insurance plan.

Which several million people in this country still cannot access, and may never be able to, because they've never been considered important enough to be included in the system before now.

So to end the sermon, let's take a peek at this video and consider our own lifestyles, and perhaps take some steps to eliminate the need for the health care legislation we have apparently forced ourselves into, and which some oppose. Time to pay attention.

And a shout out to the Yellow Rose of Texas, Joanna, for the link. My sincerest thanks, and sorry it's preceded by such a downer post.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chowdah


There was a fleeting brush with reasonable weather last week that I thought was supposed to last more than a day or two, but as is usual in this area, if you count on anything related to the weather, you are a silly fool. Temps are hovering around freezing, not unusual for much of the country in January, but still not welcome here.

Plus, given the weird sinus infection that popped up this past couple of weeks (it felt like my teeth were going to explode) and now has me on an antibiotic , I'm not drinking any wine so as not to mess up the effectiveness of the drug. So let me tell you buddy, this weather had REALLY bad timing.

Good excuse to make chowdah. This one is not the prettiest face in the crowd, sorry- it looks a little dingy, and frankly, kinda green. The finished product would have been much more attractive, I think, if the mushrooms were sauteed separately, and then added after the puree step, but the results would still be yum no matter how you smashed em'. Potatoes and corn and mushrooms and onions and carrots and garlic. How could you possibly go wrong? Absolutely delish.

I tried this initially without adding flour for thickening, thinking that the partial pureeing would thicken things up nicely, but it didn't work. I know you're supposed to mix thickening agents with cold water, but just removing some of the hot liquid from the soup and blending with the flour worked fine (wouldn't work with cornstarch though, if that is your thickener of choice- use cold liquids only).

I didn't use veggie sausage this time, but if you want an even more substantial bowl, brown up a little bit and add right before serving.

Potato, Mushroom, and Corn Chowder

2 Tbs. Earth Balance butter or oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups peeled, diced boiling potato such as Yukon Gold (~2 medium)
1½ cups corn kernels
4 cups vegan chicken-style broth
2 Tbs. vegan bacon-style bits (optional)
½ tsp. poultry seasoning

2 Tbs. flour

2 Tbs. nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tsp. salt, to taste
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Optional: 4 oz. sliced veggie sausage

Heat butter or oil in a large pot and cook onion through garlic until just tender.

Stir in potato through poultry seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Scoop about a quarter cup of soup broth into a small bowl, add the flour, stir until it is very well blended, and return to the pot.

Add nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper to taste. Remove a cup or so of chowder, puree in a blender, and return to the pot (or just run an immersion blender around the pot a bit). Stir well, cooking for a few minutes to thicken, and serve.

Variation: Brown 4 oz. sliced veggie sausage over medium heat, and stir into chowder right before serving.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm dreaming of a Crawlspace Christmas


The front yard had been flooded for so long I had started to take it for granted. We had a boatload o' rain in November and guess I just thought the sump pump was still dealing with the residuals.

That's what I get for thinking.

On my way to work last Monday, I looked under the crawlspace again (during daylight hours this time) to see why the pump was running and hark! The pressure tank was spewing water to beat the band. Back inside, I turned off the breaker for the well pump, called work and let the supervisor know that Houston had a problem, then called the plumber to deliver the same message. They could get here the same day, yay, but not till after lunch.

By 3 pm, I was the proud owner of a brand new pressure tank and $650 worth of additional credit card debt. Note that I have been waiting for this tank to die for years, and when the plumber told me they are usually good for 20 years and the date of install was 1978, I consoled myself with the fact that ye ol' pressure tank was 13 years beyond its lifespan.

However. Holiday spending is now rather curtailed, not that it is ever over the top here anyway. There is a Poinsettia that was purchased before the pressure tank incident, which will now serve as the main decoration, along with some nandina berries (see preceding picture) scattered here and there. Perhaps the pressure tank could serve as the Christmas tree- I imagine it would be rather festive all strung up with lights 'n ornaments, however one would have to be in the crawlspace to appreciate it. So I have declared this year to be my Crawlspace Christmas.

One thing that is relatively cheap as far as holiday spending goes is food, if you do things right. Food may be the gift of choice this season. My middle brother and his family usually host Christmas dinner every year, and in the past I have often taken a baked pasta florentine (i.e., with spinach) as an alternative main to the turkey and/or ham they always serve. This year my sister in law requested the pasta dish specifically, and I am all aflutter because I will FINALLY have a wonderful non-dairy ricotta I am not afraid to use in my favorite baked pasta recipe, (read: I am not afraid that family members will say "Blechh, what the heck did you put in the pasta?") I have always broken down and used dairy ricotta in the past, which is not my preference. (The pasta florentine recipe will be posted at a later date).

Many, many non-dairy ricotta recipes were reviewed before I arrived at this one. It could be much simpler than this and would likely be just fine as a component of a recipe with other ingredients, but I was trying to recreate a ricotta that was relatively neutral, yet still had a "rounded" flavor. Those notes aside, if you want to eliminate the more esoteric ingredients (miso powder and maca powder, to be specific) I'm sure the recipe would still work. In keeping with the goal of a relatively neutral flavor, I did not add the typical Italian seasonings often suggested for non-dairy ricotta, as those will be added with other ingredients in the finished dish.

Maca powder is probably the most exotic, but it is available at many health food stores, and for most recipes I've seen is used in very small quantities (usually less than a tablespoon at a time). It is sometimes recommended for non-dairy cheese recipes.

Miso powder can likely be replaced with light miso paste, although I'm not sure of the conversion between dry and paste miso. Start with a teaspoon of paste miso, if that's what you have, and decide if it needs anything else.

Tofu Cashew Ricotta

Makes 2 cups, perfect for replacing a 15-16 oz. container of dairy ricotta

½ cup very finely ground raw cashews
(start with about a generous 1/3 cup cashew pieces, and use a spice grinder for finest grind)
1 Tbs. nutritional yeast
1 tsp. dried miso powder
1 tsp. maca powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. granulated garlic, optional (powder should work too)
¼ tsp. granulated onion, optional (powder should work too)
1 Tbs. neutral tasting oil, such as canola
1 Tbs. lemon juice, more to taste

14 - 16 oz. extra firm tofu, drained but not pressed

Combine cashews through lemon juice in a medium bowl and blend together.

Crumble half the tofu into the bowl and mix with the other ingredients, then crumble in the remaining tofu and continue mixing to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients.

Adjust seasonings, oil, and lemon juice to taste as desired, and refrigerate until use.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Leftover thanks, and everything


All of the leftovers are long gone by now, not that I had that many to start out with. When Thanksgiving is at somebody else's house every year, you go home with the remains of what you brought (although sometimes I sneak a hunk 'o pie in to take back for breakfast the next day). This year I took cranberry sauce as usual, but simpled it up compared to what I usually bring.

For the past several years, I've done a cranberry chutney, which I of course love, but it seems only a few other people in the family do (don't think I've posted it before, so I will do so before Christmas for anyone who likes a little more adventure in their sauce). This year I did almost straight cranberry sauce as instructed on the Trader Joe's package, but added three peeled, cored, and diced Jazz apples, and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. Wowza! I am usually so tired of cranberry sauce after a few days that it ends up getting thrown, but this was so good it was gone in two days. And I am actually happy that there is an extra bag of cranberries in the fridge! More sauce!

I cooked it longer than you would a straight cranberry sauce to get the apples to soften, and frankly it could have cooked even more with no harm done. It was definitely a cross between cranberry sauce and a chunky applesauce, which means it was great on a toasted "everything" bagel with Tofutti cream cheese. No kidding, you have to try this. If I had any bagels left I would make some cran-apple sauce NOW just for this purpose.

This year I also had mashed potato duty. It's easy to make really good mashed potatoes if you return the potatoes to the pan after cooking to dry them out a bit, and then add the milk/butter/salt/pepper. But I didn't get the full mashed potato experience because my family does gravy from the bird so I passed on that, since I like my gravy bird-less. There was a small container of mashed potatoes that returned home with me, and alas, no gravy.

BUT. As luck would have it, Tofu Mom did a month of gravy posts during Vegan MoFo, and what did I find there but a recipe for cashew gravy that I swear has made gravy a food group at my house. Now I love gravy anyway, but it always seems more trouble than it's worth. Not so here, even with my substitutions it was basically blend the beejeepers out of the raw ingredients and then heat through to thicken up (although Tofu Mom's original recipe is not at all time consuming, I am pathologically incapable of doing anybody's recipe as written the first time around).

I ended up using vegetarian broth made with "Better Than Bouillon" Vegan Chicken Broth paste instead of water, upping the cashews to 1/2 cup instead of 1/3 cup, reducing the tamari to 1 Tbs., increasing the nutritional yeast to 2 Tbs., taking out the onion powder/garlic powder, and using a half tsp. of poultry seasoning instead of the sage. Better Than Bouillon is really good as an instant broth, but it is quite generous with the salt so I could have probably gotten away with no tamari, or only a teaspoon or so.

And the results were...

Gravy noodles! Please try not to faint from excitement...

OK, OK, plopping boiled noodles on a plate and dumping on the gravy is not exactly cuisine, but this is the kind of leftovers I'd want if Thanksgiving were at my house. So no worries, I had to make some of my own leftovers after the fact, but in addition to mashed 'taters or noodles, guess what else "leftover" gravy is good on?

Toasted "everything" bagels! No kidding again, this is just as legit as chipped beef gravy on a biscuit- there just ain't no cow chips in the gravy!

This is a rather late wish, but I hope everyone had a fab Thanksgiving, and lots of leftovers for which to give thanks. Bring on the rest of the holidays! (I think...)

Friday, November 25, 2011

America's oldest seed company needs YOU!



With this coming Saturday designated as Small Business Saturday, the following plea is eerily appropriate.

Gardeners, cookers, and eaters of all stripes, lend me your ear. I am way late to this situation but maybe not too late to help at least a little. America's oldest seed company needs assistance to ride out this economy and remain as one of America's best, and oldest, small businesses. Use the button below to make a donation, or go to the website and buy a catalog for $5.40. They are one of my favorite seed suppliers, and I just found out about this, but it's not too late! I was just about to get my seed list together for the coming year, so this will kick the ol' butt into gear a little faster.



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vote for Blue Water Baltimore and transform parking lots into oases



Vote for Blue Water Baltimore at www.50statesforgood.com!

Tom's of Maine's "50 States for Good" initiative supports community projects and needs your help! Vote today.

Vote for Blue Water Baltimore and help them win a grant to turn school parking lots into Bay-friendly recreational oases for students. You can vote once a day until September 13!

Check out Blue Water Baltimore at:
Blue Water Baltimore

Sunday, July 31, 2011

In praise of nibbles


It is so infrequent that I make an actual 'meal' at mealtime, I thought it appropriate to declare that henceforth, appetizers (aka nibbles) will be placed in the meal category here at WTM.

Look, often multi-course nonsense is just that. Ain't none of us out workin' the back forty anymore (well at least not most of us). Most of the time we should be eating smaller meals, to match our smaller calorie expenditures, and hopefully realizing smaller waistlines as a result.

Not that nibbling has made my waistline any smaller as of this post. But the trend towards at least giving lip service to small meals eaten more frequently is a good thing, and if I finally work the 'push-away-from-the-table' exercise into my daily routine maybe the inches will be pushed away too.

So especially in a summer when the temps in the Mid-A have been kissing 100°F on far too many occasions, I confess that meals have most frequently been nibbles of late. One bake, many takes. But they don't have to be limited to junky fat-salt-sugar bombs, although those have crept in too, mostly during on-the-road eating (need a twelve step program for french fries dipped in ketchup- halp!)

Plus this week somehow I came down with a sinus infection and have Exploding Head, so there is no desire to cook. How in the world do you get a sinus infection in July?

Here follows my take on Baba Ganoush, one of the most fabulous nibble type meals on the planet, and probably included in every food blog on the planet, as well. The recipe was adapted from one in Paula Wolfert's undeniable bible on The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. My copy is unfortunately packed in my brother's garage at the moment, so I can't check the original ingredients against what I am currently using. However the original recipe is on ze interwebz (just do a search for "Paula Wolfert"+"Baba Ganoush") if the reader would like to check it out.

David Lebovitz posted his version a couple of years ago and likes it smoky. I haven't tried it his way, but I do a 'cheater' take here by adding smoked paprika. Smoky is good but I am probably not in the same league as the hard-core smoke aficionados, so this is likely quite a bit tamer than David's. He also advises that you can cheat by using a bit of smoked salt. I didn't try it in the current batch, but having recently acquired a supply of the alderwood variety here, I will add it to the next batch of Baba and do an update to this post if it is a keeper.

One other thing. I have no idea what the correct spelling in English is for Baba Ganoush. There are so many spellings I gave up, so here I use the simplest one I have come across.

Baba Ganoush

Ingredients:
1 medium-largish eggplant (about 1-1¼ pounds)
¼ cup tahini
1 medium-large clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 lemon, juiced (about 3 Tbs.)
1 tsp. salt (use a bit of smoked salt if desired)
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp. smoked paprika (or half smoked and half sweet paprika, or all sweet if you don't like smoky)

Garnishes:
chopped parsley
ground paprika or Aleppo pepper
drizzle of olive oil (I leave this out, but a little tiny drizzle makes a nice presentation at parties)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pierce eggplant all over with a fork.

Place eggplant in a shallow baking pan and roast until collapsing, about 45-50 minutes. You may turn over halfway through roasting, but I didn't and it collapsed just fine.

Remove eggplant from oven and allow to cool until it is easy to handle. Remove peel, placing pulp in a colander. Rinse pulp lightly and press to remove any bitter juices.

Add eggplant pulp and remaining ingredients to a food processor and puree. Adjust seasonings to taste. If time allows, refrigerate for a couple of hours so flavors may blend.

Spread in a shallow dish and garnish as desired. Serve at room temperature with pita chips (toasted is best!), cucumber slices, carrot sticks, and other crudites.

Alternatively, serve as a sandwich in a split pita with accompaniments such as crisp torn lettuce, shredded carrot, diced tomato and cucumber, and slivered radish.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Food in jars


No, not the kind that you might find at the wonderful blog of the same name. Here there be jars of a different stripe.

My recently purchased new kitchen essential was silent for a couple of weeks while other stuff was going on (and I am missing the smoothie love as a result). Tonight, however, it had to earn its keep because I needed a fast dinner. I think I'm in love. Tonight I had Alfredo sauce from a jar, except for it came from a blender jar. This was so easy and so good it should be illegal.

The BlendTec has a soup making setting (the VitaMix does too I think) where you pulverize everything and heat it up in the process. What other kind of cooking is this easy? That is the setting I ended up using while trying to get this recipe right. It gives a nice long blending period, which you need for smoothly blended mixtures that include nuts. Plus the sauce was already warmed up! No turning on another burner!

Semi-related side note: another monster thunder storm just blew through tonight, knocking over all the plants on the patio, but did it do a freakin bit of good blowing out the heat and humidity too? Not. A. Bit. So one fewer burner going in the kitchen is a good thing.

I ended up with a much bigger batch of sauce than I had intended, because I had to keep adding here and there to get the proportions right. The recipe could easily be cut in half or in thirds if you want, but I think since there is a quart of sauce left from tonight's activity, this would be splendid in a scalloped potato casserole tomorrow. Even though it's the middle of despicable summer and I'd much rather have scalloped potatoes in February.

This recipe was inspired by the "Cashew Cheez Sauce" in Jo Stepaniak's "The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook", as well as by several other non-dairy Alfredo sauce recipes that have been making the rounds on the internet the past couple of years.

If you don't have a high-powered blender, don't fret, just blend for several minutes in a regular blender and check from time to time to see if it's there yet.

Big Batch Blender Alfredo Sauce

3 cups soy milk, or other unsweetened non-dairy milk
1½ cups cashew pieces
3 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
¾ cup nutritional yeast
1½ Tbs. light miso
1 Tbs. dijon mustard
1½ tsp. onion granules
1½ tsp. garlic granules
½ tsp. salt

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed until sauce is creamy and cashews are thoroughly blended. In a BlendTec, use the 'Sauce' setting. Adjust seasonings to taste. Transfer to a saucepan to heat through before serving, if necessary.

Serve over pasta of choice (a tri-colored pasta like I used here is especially fun, if pasta can be fun), or use for a baked pasta or potato casserole. Top with paprika, freshly grated pepper, and/or an herb seasoning blend if you are feeling adventurous.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Smoothing into summer


Happy summer solstice, all!

In honor of the one month anniversary of my last post, here is the latest from the WTM kitchen (well actually not the latest, but the only thing I currently have a picture for):

Smoothies and lemongrass!

Huh?

Recently acquired is a kick ass blender. This has been coveted for a couple of years and though I had no business shelling out over $350 for this gadget, I will defend said purchase to my dying breath. High powered blenders annihilate EVERYTHING. Which is great if you want to eat more in the way of whole fruits and veggies but don't like a lot of them in the raw state with their clothes on (the skins).

Enter your basic BlendTec or Vitamix. I chose a BlendTec because it can do dry or wet ingredients in the same jar, at least it claims to, and the Vitamix wants you to purchase a separate jar for dry blending. So far I have just been making smoothies to try to get more fruit into my overfed, undernourished self, and this I believe: smoothies rock!

My blender came with a boatload of recipes (and typos, by the way- can these companies not afford copy editors?) but many involve more than just fruit. My craving right now is for the raw ingredients, no ice, no milk, no flavorings, no nada (although I added soy milk a couple of times and it was fine, it's equally fine without).

Favorite smoothie blend follows. Oh, and the lemongrass? Next post I'm afraid- I don't have a picture yet of the little guys that were rooting during the smoothie shoot, and subsequently blossomed into plants. There were six in the bunch, purchased from the Asian grocer, and the root ends were cut off and placed in water- all rooted.

It makes a difference to try rooting tropical plants in warm weather instead of January. January doesn't work (been there- Fail). Even though you are trying to root them indoors, somehow they know.

Watermelon Smoothies

4 cups watermelon chunks, cut small (about 1")
6 strawberries, tops removed
1 banana, cut in 2" chunks
1 firm apple (such as Gala or Fuji), quartered, seeded, and cut in 1" chunks
1 cup soy or almond milk, if you insist

Place fruit in the blender in the order listed and process until smooth, or press "Smoothie" on a BlendTec and let 'er rip. This will just about fill a 32 oz. jar, and make 2 generous servings (or more, if you are reasonable about the serving size).