Reminiscing the Ultimate Hangover Breakfast

Chicken Fried Steak, in case you were wondering. I was talking to Mari about how wonderful I remember it being, and she said she had never had it before. "Oh man. Best breakfast EVER. Lousy cut of red meat, batter-dipped and deep-fried, gravy, hash browns..." Mari wrinkled her nose and said she didn't think she could eat something so heavy in the morning. I told her that, to be fair, I wasn't eating it before I trundled off to work... I was eating it at the crack of noon after a night of hard drinking. HUGE difference.

Anyway. I don't eat that sort of thing anymore, but I was reading one of Mari's cookbooks and saw a couple recipes for fennel that were recommended to serve with pork, which got me thinking about chickpea cutlets. I've read about them since I started reading about vegan cooking, and have wanted to make them for some time. It's very kind of Isa Chandra Moskowitz to make the recipe public, and is something I will definitely make again.

When I googled "chickpea cutlets recipe," one of the first results was from a blog called "Bigmouth Strikes Again," and it included a serving suggestion for the cutlets with vegan gravy and colcannon. Done, and done. The colcannon came from Lolo (who else?), and the vegan gravy came from good ol' Recipe Zaar.

Also, I would like to pause to mention here that no one should ever buy seitan at the health food store. It's a million dollars there, and frankly not that delicious. Make it yourself. There's pages and pages of recipes for it on the web, all of which allow you to season it however you like and save a little dough in the process.

Anyway, since the recipes are all available for your perusal elsewhere (the only difference is that I used a head of cauliflower in the colcannon in addition to some potatoes), I'll skip any lengthy process descriptions and get straight to the pictures.

Here I am, mashing the chickpeas for the cutlets:

Here's what the seitan for the colcannon looked like after baking and a bit of chopping:

So here I am, running around doing a bunch of things at once... Chopping kale, peeling potatoes, steaming cauliflower, kneading chickpea cutlets, chopping onions, asking Mari to peel and press garlic, stirring gravy constantly, making cutlets, frying cutlets, sauteeing kale and onions, mashing potatoes and cauliflower... You get the idea. I was having a hell of a time getting the cutlets to finish- they're supposed to be firm to the touch and I think the heat on my pan was too high, as the outsides browned immediately and the middles were still soft. I stuck them in the oven, set the timer, and went out to smoke, intending to get the gravy back up to heat when I went back in to serve dinner.

Then the power went out, which would have been utterly miserable, except we had wine.

To take our minds off of our hunger, we played rummy with Mari's "Dr. Who" cards.

It was only a half hour or so before it came back on, which was long enough for me to beat Mari three times in a row at rummy. Once it came back on, I sprang into action. I had stuffed everything in the oven immediately to keep it all somewhat warm, and that had mostly worked, and the cutlets were done. I gave everything a quick re-heat:

And dinner was served!!

Delicious. I brought a serving down to my mum yesterday afternoon and she enjoyed it very much, almost as much as I enjoyed it the second time!!

The chickpea cutlets are definitely staying in my repertoire, they were absolute genius. Thanks for reading!


Shepherd's Pie, Pot Stickers, Cleaning out the Crisper Drawer

Last Saturday (1/17) I knew exactly three things when I got up.

1. The weather was positively amazing. Amazing enough to run errands on my lipstick red, 1000cc, pack mule. I've had a bit of a love/hate relationship with my bike since my car died. Commuting to work in the morning by motorcycle is at best inconvenient (what with gear and luggage considerations), and at worst a little scary (what with half-asleep, idiot drivers yakking away on cell phones and trying to balance coffee and bagels in their laps). Carpooling with my roommate has been a godsend, but during the winter it leaves my bike alone and lonely, alternating between being under a cover and in the garage. I have felt guilty, even while taking the occasional weekend ride. It was when I looked outside on Saturday that I realized my problem was not with my bike, but with winter in general. Gearing up and strapping on my saddlebags was more pleasure than hassle, and I zipped around my neighborhood running errands and had a grand time.

2. I wanted to invite my mom over for homemade pot stickers. She loves pot stickers, and I love hanging out with her.

3. I wanted to make shepherd's pie and blog about it.

I didn't photograph the pot stickers, unfortunately. I was too busy actually making them, and they are fairly labor intensive. I used Lolo's recipe(ish) from Vegan Yum Yum (can you tell I love her blog?), though I made the filling a little different. I did make the baked seitan, but opted for cabbage, carrots, green onions and garlic for the filling. After all those things took a spin in the food processor, I put the whole lot in a pan and cooked it up a little, just to soften the vegetables. I added soy sauce, sesame oil, seasoned rice vinegar, ginger and black pepper, all to taste.

The best part about making those is that 1 package of potsticker wrappers is never enough to use all the filling, which means I have a delicious pile of well-seasoned, parcooked vegetables mixed with ground seitan in my fridge. This led to a thai-inspired sort of pasta salad.

The cauliflower is just sauteed in olive oil, salt, and chili flakes. The pasta is (of course) whole wheat orzo. The dressing for the salad consisted of about a half cup of peanut butter, a Tbsp of soy sauce, 2 Tbsp of seasoned rice vinegar, and just a tiny knob of red curry paste. This would have been better with cilantro and fresh lime juice, but no way was I making a special trip to the store just to dress up some leftovers.

I guess this has always been my philosopy when I cook. Making what I can with what I have. This is not to say that I don't buy anything special for certain things, but I really try to understand the essence of what I want to eat, and use the things in my pantry to make it happen.

A good example of this is shepherd's pie. The things I know to be absolutely true if I want to call something shepherd's pie are that it must contain vegetables and some kind of protein, it must be a bit like a thick stew, and it must have potatoes on top. Given those guidelines, I can go nuts! I wanted to try treating some seitan like stew meat, frying it up and then adding my veggies during the braising stage. I thought about sprinkling flour in with the seitan as it was frying, but then I felt sort of weird about that given that seitan is more or less made of flour. My filling ended up being a little soupy as a result, but was still delicious.

Here's the seitan, ready to fry:

Also, if I had it to do over again, I would not turn my back on the stuff! Stirring constantly is the order of the day!

Here it is as I added some of the veggies and prepared to let it simmer for a while:

Cabbage is a pretty traditional ingredient for shepherd's pie, and it's also a vegetable I feel i should eat more often, so I pretty much always use it. Don't feel any pressure, however, to use something just because it's common. Again, the most basic components of this dish are vegetables, stew-like consistency, protein of some kind, and a potato topping. It need not be any more structured than that to be absolutely delicious.

Here's the pie with the cabbage in:

You can also see in this shot that the seitan has gotten much paler. It increases in size a bit and gets springy as it gets close to being done. I think the texture is wonderful, but it's probably not going to fool anyone into thinking it's actually meat. Since that is never my goal, it's not really a problem.

A word on the potatoes: normally, it's mashed potatoes that go on top of the pie. I prefer my potatoes skin-on, and with a little bit of crispness. As such, they're chopped into quarters, boiled, and drained.

Then some oil is heated, and they're fried until they're a little brown and crispy on whatever side happens to be touching the pan.

Meanwhile, my vegetables were as soft as I wanted them, the seitan was delicious and springy and chewy, so I added some kale to wilt just a little before the whole thing went in the oven.

The potatoes are smashed while they're frying (no need to go for perfection, rustic is just fine), and then put on top of the pie.

The whole thing is baked for about 30-45 minutes, pretty much until the potatoes get a little more brown on top. I like the challenge of cooking vegan, but there is no reason this couldn't be finished with some shredded cheese like Gruyere over the potatoes.

I made some broccoli to go along, first sauteeing some leeks, onions and garlic until the leeks were translucent.

Then I added lemon juice and a little bit of water and some broccoli florets. I covered the pan to steam it, and probably overdid it a little, as the broccoli didn't have that beautiful green color when all the water had evaporated. Oh well. It was still tasty.

No pictures of the finished product, as this was not a spectacularly photogenic meal. The best part about shepherd's pie is that the leftovers are dynamite for lunches!!

For a special treat on Friday night (1/23), Mari made vegetarian onion soup out of her "Vegetables Every Day" cookbook. It was INCREDIBLE, easily the best french onion soup I've ever had. I just had to get a picture of the cheesy, crouton-y, brothy goodness:

I have to say, it sure is nice to have someone make dinner for me!

There's also been knitting (as usual!), I finished the Bell Curve skirt from Knitty. It turned out beautifully, and I'm very happy with it, even though it could NOT have been more boring to knit!

Holy macro focus, Batman:

And last but not least, my plans for Tony Harrison:

Stay tuned for more, and as always thank you for reading!!


Coconut Tofu Redux, Comfort Food & Knitting

Friday night was the night. Coconut Tofu II: Son of Coconut Tofu was playing in my kitchen. First of all, I think my failed attempt from Thursday merits a couple shots. Here's the tofu cut up and ready to go into the WAY too salty marinade for the first go-round:

I roasted purple potatoes along with the tofu, and they are beautiful. Check it out:

Alright. In an attempt to redeem myself, I decided to give up the idea of baking the tofu. Tofu needs a long time to cook in the oven, and coconut takes a very short time to burn in the oven. You can see the problem.

Per the indications on "What the hell does a vegan eat anyway?" I went with the three-dish process involving dredging, slurrying, and coconutting.

A word on the coconut... It's hard to find unsweetened flake coconut! I had to go to Whole Foods, and the stuff I got was raw, and a little... woody (as my roommate described it). The fibers were really long and it didn't want to stick to anything, and if I had to do it over again, I would either run it through the food processor before using or look for the powdery stuff that I got at the Sac Co-Op a couple years ago. Complications aside, I learned from my aunt Patty long ago that anything breaded and deep-fried (or floured and fried in a half-inch of oil, as it were) is good. As such, dinner was pretty delicious. Instead of the green curry in the recipe, I had red for the slurry/dipping sauce and it was fantastic.

While I was taking care of the vegan side of dinner, my roommate made a beautiful pot of osuimono, complete with mochi, shiitake mushrooms, and some sort of greens that she pulled out of our garden and assured me were edible. So amazing.

Monday night I wanted to make something comforting and casserole-ish. This recipe is endlessly variable and customizeable. The sauce is what sets it apart, and as such I'll give a recipe for that, but the bulk of the casserole can be anything you want. Quinoa, broccoli & white beans? Sure. Bulgur & sun dried tomatoes? Why not. Brown rice, kale & lentils? Get it on!!

Anyway. The sauce. If you've never tried nutritional yeast, I would highly recommend it. It's good to sprinkle over steamed veggies or pasta, and it makes fantastic sauces in dishes where cheese or cream sauce would be the order of the day. It has a sort of nutty, sharp flavor that I've found is best highlighted by some kind of acid, be it lemon juice or rice vinegar or balsamic.

Again, making a recipe is difficult for me, because I'm an incessant culinary fiddler. Start small, taste, add. Lather, rinse, repeat. You get the idea. Give this a try if you're interested, and remember to taste frequently. When it's pleasing to your palette, it's ready!

Mine went as follows:

2 Tbsp Earth Balance
1 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 Tbsp nutrtitional yeast
approx. 1 1/2 cups plain (or unsweetened) soy milk
approx. 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp nutmeg (or to taste)
salt & pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat and sprinkle in the nutritional yeast and flour. Stir to get everything mixed together and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or so. This is kind of like a roux, except with less fat. The mixture will likely be a little thick or pasty (as opposed to smooth and cake-battery like a regular roux), but that's ok.

Stream in the soy milk while whisking the mixture. Whisk until smooth and add the vinegar. 2-3 tsp seemed about right, and the balsamic makes it quite sweet. Taste and add more if you like. Add the salt and pepper and the nutmeg. Whisk for about 5-8 minutes longer, the mixture will thicken considerably as a result of the vinegar. It'll look about like this:

This sauce is rich-tasting, velvety, and open to lots of seasonings. It makes this casserole seem especially decadent, even though it's chock full of good-for-you things. Mine was made from about three cups of (mostly) cooked short grain brown rice, three onions, about eight cloves of garlic, the pine nuts and sliced almonds left over in my pantry, a container of extra firm tofu crumbled very fine, a can of red kidney beans rinsed & drained and a package of frozen peas (added with about 5 minutes left to bake).

Another suggestion I have for making these types of things is to season every layer of the dish. The water the rice cooks in is salted. I add salt, pepper and smoked paprika while cooking the oninos/garlic. I taste it all again when I add the tofu and add more seasonings if necessary. Ditto the beans. Anyway, this is the onion, garlic, nuts, tofu & rice:

And here it is with the kidney beans added, ready to stick in the oven:

Delicious. Stick it in the oven at 350 for about 40 minutes. If you're putting in anything like spinach or frozen peas, add those when the dish has about ten minutes left.

While the casserole was baking, I made some wilted red chard with lemon-garlic-Earth Balance sauce. Isn't red chard beautiful?

And the sauce was amazing... I got the garlic nice and toasty in the Earth Balance before adding some lemon juice and just tossing the wilted chard in it. Simple and VERY flavorful.

Dinner is served!

...Along with some requisite shots of my most recently finished knitting project: a handbag for my roommate that I made for her as a belated Christmas/Birthday gift. Last you all saw it, it was sitting on top of the dryer with plastic bags, air-drying after being felted.

Here it is as I started stitching on the i-cord trim:

And here it is finished:

(The lining was my first attempt at anything of that nature and as such is a little... punk rock.)

The outside:

Thanks for reading!!


Trial and Error

Ever since trying to do more fancy things that I can photograph and be proud to post recipes for, I've encountered more failure than usual. While initially uncomfortable, the experiences almost always prove valuable.

Last night I tried to do coconut tofu. The coconut wouldn't stick, I burned the bejesus out of the coconut, blah blah, comedy of errors. Basically, I wanted to make it vegan rather than just vegetarian, which meant not using the greatest of all culinary glue: eggs.

The marinade was also too salty- I used soy sauce, a little miso, a dash of sesame oil, a splash of rice vinegar, and a dusting of corn starch. My assumption was that the corn starch would help the coconut stick, but there really wasn't enough for the marinade to do double duty as a slurry. Also, I should have cut the marinade with mirin, or found more vinegar, or something. It wasn't inedible, but it was... strong.

So I asked Mari if she would mind eating the same thing two nights in a row, she said no, and so I'm going to try again tonight and post up some pics. What I will post from last night are the pics I took of the purple potatoes. They're so beautiful!!

I found this recipe on "What the hell does a Vegan eat, anyway?" and will use the techniques listed within to hopefully achieve success.

Wish me luck and good tofu!!


Not food related, but...

I just finished my first knitted garment that I can stick my head and arms through. It's a knitted shirt from Jennifer Stafford's book "Domiknitrix." I'm so proud, I thought I'd post some pics.


Christmas Eve, Knitting, and January 6th

My alarm went off at 7 am... Merry Christmas Eve, now get to work!

First order of business: Heidi Swanson's Heavenly Pie. Rather than the graham crackers, I used the Italian almond cookies that Mari used for her tiramisu. Same idea, I gave them a whirl in the food processor with some sliced almonds, Earth Balance and honey.

As that was happening, I was melting chocolate in my makeshift double boiler (glass bowl on top of a metal pot).

When the chocolate was melted, I took the bowl off the pot and carried it over to put in the food processor with the cream cheese, egg and tofu. I've made this pie before, and didn't remember the bowl being so damn hot!! I tried at least five different ways to hold the bowl and scrape it with a rubber spatula into the food processor, but all methods appeared to be heading straight towards disaster, namely dropping the bowl full of chocolate and breaking it. It was then that a brilliant idea came to me. I am the Hooligan Vegetarian, after all. Tourmaster should market these as oven mitts.

At last, the pie was poured...

And then it was baked. And lo, it was delicious.

While the pie was baking, dear Mari prepped the green beans for me.

And the mighty Kitchenaid stand mixer made short work of some tangerines for the brussels sprouts.

Once the pie was finished, the oven was freed up for the roasting of the tomatoes. Aren't they festive?

As the tomatoes were roasting, I put together the potatoes au gratin. I also painstakingly wrote down the recipe, but it needs perfecting. The potatoes tasted really good, but there was liquid in the bottom of the pan. That's decidedly unattractive, and I think it has to do with using too much milk? I'm not sure. Before I post the recipe, I would like to make it better. The pictures, however, came out very well. Behold:

Now comes the part where you tell me I'm amazing. In the midst of all this culinary madness, I needed to finish my mom's scarf for Christmas, the Versatility pattern from knitty.com. In the morning, it was still blocking on the living room floor.

Over the course of the day, I sewed on all 14 (yes, it should have been 16) buttons and finished the scarf in time to surprise my mom on Christmas morning. She enjoyed her gift, and i was pleased to give it to her.

I also decorated the house... trimmed the tree, all that jazz.

As the party drew closer, things started getting finished. Remember the dip? I toasted the pine nuts...

And plated it!

I browned the brussels sprouts while the chili orange glaze was cooking.

I broiled the green beans and mixed them in with the tomatoes roasted earlier in the afternoon.

We put all the appetizers and delicious sweets that Mari made out on the sideboard.

I pulled the coconut shrimp out of the oven. A note on those as well... I paid attention to this recipe, but dredged them in flour first per advice re: frying shrimp. Baking, as it turns out, is not sufficient to cook the flour. The shrimp meat was perfect, the breadcrumbs were crunchy, the coconut was toasted... but I could taste uncooked flour. Everyone ate them and said they liked them anyway, which was sweet if they were lying and great if they just didn't notice anything (I tend to be fairly critical of my own work), but I fully intend to try this out again. This time, however, on tofu... since I don't tend to eat seafood except on occasions that I find myself in sushi restaurants, at my folks' place for dinner, or trying to please a big crowd of omnivores!

So that was Christmas Eve. There was much wine and merrymaking, it was truly wonderful to share the night with family and friends.

In between then and now was New Year's Eve, which I spent with the lovely and talented Brian. He made Thai curry for some of his friends and me, and we rang in 2009 watching the ball drop and drinking champagne cocktails. Mari's birthday followed in short order, and her parents took us out for sushi and then a big group of us took Mari out for karaoke at one of those wild places where you get a private room. The book of songs was about three inches thick, with seven pages of english songs. The rest of the book was in Korean, which is what I assume the TV was shouting at us when choosing songs and giving us our score (!) after we sang.

The past few days have been spent getting back to the real world, which is frankly kind of a drag. However, there has been creativity, in the form of Mari's belated christmas gift: a felted handbag. Here's the bag knitted, before its magical mystery tour through the washing machine this evening.

During said magical mystery tour, I made dinner. Dinner was tempeh marinated in about 1 1/2 cups of No-Chicken broth and a Tbsp of Herbs de Provence. It was served over mushrooms, onions and greens with tomato sauce and arugula walnut pesto on top.

First, while the bag was felting, I toasted the walnuts.

The pesto is made from 2/3 cups of walnuts, toasted in a hot, dry, pan; 3 cloves of garlic, 2 cups of baby arugula leaves, 3 or so Tbsp of olive oil, 2 tsp lemon juice, and salt & pepper to taste. After a time in the food processor, it looked like this:

The marinade was boiled and then poured over the tempeh, then covered with foil. This steamed the tempeh (cut in half lengthwise and then into triangles, making eight thin pieces) before it was pan fried.

Somewhere in here, I pulled the bag out of the washing machine and set it up to dry.

The package of sliced mushrooms and two small onions were caramelized in olive oil, about 1/4 cup of the marinade, a splash of balsamic and a bit of salt and pepper. The greens were added later.

Like so...

The tomato sauce was made by reducing a drained can of tomatoes and the rest of the marinade.
And... Voila!! Vegan Dinner!