Sunday, December 28, 2014

Holiday Leftover Casserole

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The Christmas fake meats
Can boldly furnish forth the next day's table!

The title of today's post is really a misnomer, since I actually conceived of and made this casserole as itself, rather than a way to use up food that had been cooked for another occasion. But it imparts exactly the same feeling as those old-school, retro-housewifey recipes you find on the back of soup cans and packaged stuffing mix, so the name seems like a handy and accurate descriptor of the dish's spirit, if not its literal substance.

Of course, you could make it with leftovers, especially if you have a ton of stuffing - often the case at our house - and/or extra cooked veggies, etc. cluttering up your refrigerator in the days after a big feast. Talking of holidays, I make my own (admittedly delicious) sage and onion stuffing from scratch on such occasions, but packaged stuffing cubes work perfectly well here, and in fact their presence in my cupboard on an ordinary, uninspired evening proved the starting point for the recipe below.

My main caveat when buying stuffing mix is to read the label closely, because animal products lurk in the weirdest places; the Arnold variety in the hyperlink above is fine as of this writing, but companies do change formulas so be careful. I'd also suggest a pretty bare bones preparation of the stuff, since the casserole itself is amply seasoned: just mix with enough broth and fat to suit package directions, and don't worry about adding herbs, onions, etc, as you might do if you were serving it as a side dish.

The end result was trashily delicious in the most satisfactory way, and the whole business only took about an hour from conception to completion (yet more proof - if any were needed - that cooking is preferable to gestation). We had ours with mashed potatoes and leafy greens on the side, but this "leftover" casserole could easily serve as a one-dish meal on a busy weeknight, and it makes excellent leftovers itself, should you be lucky enough to have any.

Holiday Leftover Casserole
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 large carrot, diced
~ 1 large stalk celery, diced
~ 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 tsp. each: sage, parsley
~ 1/2 tsp. each: thyme, marjoram, rosemary, white pepper
~ Dash mace
~ 2 tbsp. each: all purpose flour, nutritional yeast
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk, heated and mixed with 2 tsp. no chicken bouillon
~ 1/2 lb. vegan poultry substitute of choice, diced (I used TJ's chickenless strips), or 1 15 oz. can of drained cannellini beans or chickpeas (both excellent)
~ 1/2 cup frozen peas
~ 1/2 14 oz. bag stuffing mix, prepared according to package directions (subbing vegetable broth for chicken, oil or margarine for butter, etc., obviously)

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray.
~ In a large, deep skillet, saute the onion in the oil over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and continue cooking 5 minutes more, until they begin to soften.
~ Add the garlic, mushrooms, bay leaves, and dried seasonings and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms are giving up some of their liquid.
~ Stir in the cubed "chicken" or beans and cook another minute or two.
~ Sprinkle in the flour and nutritional yeast and stir to coat. Gradually begin adding the warm milk/bouillon mixture, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken a bit.
~ Add the frozen peas, mix well, and continue cooking over low-medium heat for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Remove the bay leaves, transfer the mixture to your greased casserole, and distribute the prepared stuffing mix evenly over the filling, making sure it's entirely covered.
~ Drizzle a little melted margarine over the top (or just give it a good shot of cooking spray) and sprinkle on a little paprika and parsley to make it pretty.
~ Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, then raise the heat to 425 and give it another 10-15 minutes, until the topping is crispy and golden-brown (ovens vary wildly, so keep an eye on things to be sure it doesn't burn).
~ Allow to rest about 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Orange-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts

When I was a child, I thought that brussels sprouts were the very distillation of evil; along with turnips and lima beans, they formed an unholy triumvirate of vegetables that could reduce me to tears. This prejudice persisted well into adulthood (and I confess that turnips, to me, still taste of disappointment, sadness, and defeat), and it was only when I finally encountered roasted sprouts that the scales fell from my eyes.

Like any member of the brassica family - which also includes cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower - brussels sprouts become nastily pungent when boiled, and since that was the way my British mother invariably prepared them, it's no wonder they struck panic and terror in my infant breast. But where boiling produces a bland, stinky mess, roasting brings out an irresistibly nutty sweetness, and once I discovered this important fact I was hooked, as were my formerly sprout-doubting partner and kids; nowadays the aroma of roasting brussels sprouts brings all the boys to the yard. (Well, it actually brings them to the kitchen, but you take my point.)

Which brings me to today's recipe. I made these sprouts for Thanksgiving, and they were so beguilingly delicious that I may never cook the little darlings any other way again. I happened to have some swanky blood orange olive oil in the cupboard, so that's what I used (and highly recommend), but if you don't have/feel like acquiring any, you can use high quality extra virgin stuff and add some freshly grated orange zest for a similar effect. I imagine this approach would also work nicely with lemon-flavored oil, and/or with toasted almonds, hazelnuts, or cashews for the walnuts. One thing is certain: henceforth I will be applying this method to asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and whatever other roasting-friendly vegetables cross my path, and I encourage you to do the same.

Orange-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts
~ 2 lbs. brussels sprouts, halved
~ 3 tbsp. each: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, blood orange olive oil (or regular extra virgin)
~ 4 large cloves garlic, crushed
~ Grated zest of one large orange (if using regular olive oil)
~ A few generous grinds black pepper
~ 1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts

~ Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit and coat a large, rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
~ Place the brussels sprouts in a large, deep bowl and combine all the remaining ingredients except the walnuts in a separate dish or beaker.
~ Pour the mixture over the sprouts and coat them thoroughly (the best way to do this is to get right in there with your hands). Cover with plastic and set aside for at least an hour to let the flavors soak in.
~ Transfer the sprouts, including any residual marinade, to your prepared baking sheet and roast at 450 degrees for about 30 minutes, making sure to turn them a few times during the process so they roast evenly. (NB my oven is old and tends to be slow, so your sprouts may cook more quickly; keep an eye on them to make sure they don't burn!)
~ Stir in the toasted walnuts and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Corn, Chickpea, and Kale Chowder

This chowder is another of those meals-in-a-bowl we are so fond of at this time of year. Thick, filling, and packed with protein and veggies, all it needs alongside it is some crusty bread, and maybe a salad if you're feeling particularly ambitious. I chopped more kale than I needed for the soup, so I added the extra to some cornbread batter with great success; watch this space for details!

Corn, Chickpea, and Kale Chowder
~ 1-2 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 large carrot, diced
~ 1 large stalk celery, diced
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 15 oz. can chickpeas, including liquid
~ 1 tbsp. Adobo seasoning
~ 2 tsp. dill
~ 1 tsp. each: marjoram, paprika, chili powder, white pepper
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 3 cups corn kernels
~ 2 cans "lite" coconut milk
~ 4 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. hot sauce (I used Frank's)
~ 1 small head kale, washed and chopped small (about 3 cups)

~ In a large, deep pot, melt the coconut oil and cook the onion over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the carrots and celery and cook about 5 minutes more, until softened.
~ Stir in the garlic, cook about minute, then add the chickpeas, dry seasonings, and corn, stirring to coat everything with the spices.
~ Add the coconut and soy milks, cover the pot, and bring the mixture just to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook about 10 minutes.
~ Add the hot sauce and chopped kale, replace the lid, and cook 10-15 minutes more, until the kale is softened but still green.
~ With an immersion blender, partially puree the soup; we're going for a semi-smooth texture without any big chunks of vegetables, but still retaining a bit of chew.
~ Adjust the seasonings to taste, remove the bay leaves, and serve hot.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Smoky Tofu with Creamed Leeks

This dish was inspired by a post on the PPK forums entitled "What to do with leeks?" While I've never had a problem finding uses for the allium ampeloprasum, this idea got in amongst me, and when I was recently felled by a truly horrendous cold/flu thing, it seemed like just the sort of comfort food this almost-doctor wanted to order (or, in this case, make). Not having any smoked tofu to hand, I marinated and baked some myself, and pretty much winged the rest; the result was creamy, soothing, and delicious, especially spooned over a pile of mashed potatoes. We had ours with some noochy kale on the side, but this could easily be a meal all on its own; either way, I recommend it be eaten while wearing pajamas, in front of the TV and/or a roaring fire.

Smoky Tofu with Creamed Leeks

The Tofu
~ 1 14 oz. package extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed 
~ 2 tbsp. soy sauce
~ 1 tbsp. each: olive oil, maple syrup
~ 1 tsp. each: Marmite, vegan Worcestershire sauce, Liquid Smoke
~ 1/2 tsp. each: garlic powder, smoked paprika
~ A few grinds black pepper

~ Slice the tofu into 1/2" cubes.
~ Mix the remaining ingredients together and pour into a large, shallow baking dish.
~ Arrange the tofu pieces in the pan, and flip them over to coat them with the marinade. Allow to rest for about an hour (most if not all of the liquid will be absorbed).
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
~ Arrange the marinated tofu in the baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping them about halfway through. They should be firm and chewy but not quite crispy.

~ Remove from the oven and set aside.

The Creamed Leeks
~ 1 cup raw cashews
~ 1 tbsp. each: olive oil, Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 2 cloves garlic, minced
~ 3 large leeks, whites and light-green parts only, cleaned, halved lengthwise, and cut 1" inch thick crosswise
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, thyme, white pepper
~ Dash mace 
~ 2.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. "no chicken" bouillon ~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric (for color)
~ 1 tsp. English mustard ~ A big batch of your favorite mashed potatoes

~ Soak the cashews in hot water for at least an hour, until quite soft.
~ In a large,deep skillet, heat the olive oil and margarine over medium-high heat and saute the garlic for about a minute, until fragrant.
~ Add the leeks and the seasonings, stir well to coat, and continue cooking, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.
~ Lower the heat, cover the pan, and continue cooking for another 15 minutes or so, until the leeks are very soft (give them the occasional stir and adda  splash of water if necessary to prevent sticking).
~ While that's happening, drain the cashews and puree them in a blender or food processor with the soy milk, bouillon, turmeric, and mustard until completely smooth.
~ Raise the heat on the leeks to medium, and begin adding the cashew mixture gradually to the skillet, stirring constantly.  
~ Continue cooking for about 10 minutes more, until you have a pan of creamy deliciousness.
~ Stir in the baked tofu, cook 5 minutes more, and spoon over mashed potatoes to serve.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Eggplant, Lentil, and Quinoa Chili

This stew is the perfect dinner for a chilly (see what I did there?) fall evening. On the eve of a recent trip, I needed to use up an eggplant but had little other fresh produce on hand; pantry staples seemed the way to go, so I rooted around in my cupboards et voila! An hour or so later we were sitting down to this thick, fragrant chili, which is not only a delicious nutritional powerhouse (lentils, black beans, and quinoa!), but ridiculously filling as well. I didn't have any fresh herbs in the house, but next time I'll toss in a handful of chopped cilantro, so I've included it in the recipe below. That said, if you're a cilantro hater you can substitute parsley or just skip it and I guarantee the results will be every bit as good.

Eggplant, Lentil, and Quinoa Chili
~ 1 tbsp. each: olive oil, coconut oil
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 large stalk celery, diced
~ 1 large carrot diced
~ 4 large cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 medium sized eggplant, cut into 1/2" cubes
~ 2 tsp. each: chili powder, cumin
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, coriander, smoked paprika, oregano, marjoram
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, cayenne
~ Dash nutmeg
~ A few generous grinds fresh black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
~ 4 tbsp. tomato paste
~ 2 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 1 15 oz. can black beans, with liquid
~ 1 cup red lentils
~ 1 cup quinoa
~ 4 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 1/2 cup chopped, fresh cilantro (optional)

~ In a large, deep pot, heat the oils and sauté the onion over medium-high heat for about two minutes; add the celery and carrot and cook another 3-4 minutes.
~ Add the garlic and eggplant and stir for about a minute to combine.
~ Add all the dry seasonings and mix well to coat; continue cooking 5-7 minutes, until the eggplant begins to soften (you can add a splash of water to prevent sticking if necessary).
~ Stir in the tomato paste, maple syrup, black beans, lentils, and quinoa. Mix well and cook for another few minutes, stirring.
~ Pour in the broth, stir, and then cover the pot and bring just to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and cook for 45-50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant has broken down and the lentils and quinoa have become one with the whole delicious business.
~ Stir in the fresh cilantro (if using), adjust seasonings to taste, and serve with rice, cornbread, or both.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sweet Potato, Kale, and Black Bean Quesadillas

Apologies for the radio silence - it's been busy around here, and I haven't had much time or culinary ambition. But I did make these excellent quesadillas for dinner on Hallowe'en (the black, orange, and green color scheme was a happy coincidence), inspired by a dish I've eaten several times at Root, a vegan place in Allston. The prototype is filled with sweet potatoes and kale, but it occurred to me that some beans would improve the situation while adding a punch of protein, and so it proved. These came together quickly and were very filling, so you could really get away with just a salad or some simple veggies on the side, in addition to the quesadilla-appropriate condiments of your choice, and still have plenty to share with your enchanted toad friends!

Sweet Potato, Kale, and Black Bean Quesadillas
~ 2 lbs. sweet potatoes, roasted until soft and mashed
~ 1 batch noochtastic kale
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 small onion, diced
~ 1 small bell pepper, diced
~ 2 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. each: cumin, chili powder, Adobo seasoning
~ ½ tsp. each: marjoram, oregano, cayenne
~ ¼ tsp. cinnamon
~ A few grinds black pepper
~ Dash nutmeg
~ 2 tbsp. tomato paste
~ 1 can refried black beans
~ 8-10 flour tortillas

~ Preheat the oven to 250 degrees fahrenheit and place a large baking sheet inside.
In a large skillet, saute the onion in the olive over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until soft.
~ Add the garlic, bell pepper, and seasonings and cook about 5-7 minutes longer.
~ Stir in the tomato paste and refried beans, mix well, and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Lay a tortilla flat and distribute about 1/4 cup each of the mashed sweet potatoes, kale, and bean mixture evenly across the upper half, then fold over to make a crescent. Continue with the remaining tortillas and fillings. (I got 8 large, generously filled quesadillas from this recipe, but your mileage may vary!)
~ Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat and cook the quesadillas one at a time, for about 3-5 minutes each side, or until browned and slightly crispy, removing the cooked ones to the oven as they're done.
~ Serve with guacamole, vegan sour cream, salsa, and/or whatever accompaniments you like.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pumpkin-Walnut Cornbread (or Muffins)

With ingredients like pumpkin, cornbread, maple syrup, molasses, and walnuts, it's like: how much more New Englandy could this quick-bread be? And the answer is none: none more New Englandy.

Pumpkin-Walnut Cornbread (or Muffins)
~ 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
~ 1 1/4 cup cornmeal
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, marjoram, baking powder
~ Dash mace
~ 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
~ 1 14 oz. can pumpkin puree (scant two cups)
~ 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened almond or soy milk
~ 1/4 cup each: canola oil, maple syrup
~ 1 tbsp. blackstrap molasses

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit and coat a loaf pan (or muffin tin) with coking spray.
~ In a large bowl. sift together all of the dry ingredients, adding then walnuts last and tossing them to coat with then flour mixture.
~ In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients (pumpkin through molasses).
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and fold in the pumpkin mixture. Combine thoroughly, but don't over-mix.
~ Transfer the batter to your greased pan or tin, and bake at 350 degrees fahrenheit for circa 45 minutes (20-25 for muffins), or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest in the pan about 10 minutes before transferring to rack to cool.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spicy Pan-Asian-Inspired Soup

This recipe owes its inception to one of those cold, damp autumn afternoons when the temperature inside the house is nearly identical to that on the outside, but it's too early in the season - and you're too cheap - to turn on the furnace. I decided that soup was probably our best defense in the circumstances, and something complex and spicy suited my agenda better than a more western "comfort" approach like potato-leek or mushroom-barley (also excellent, but not what I was seeking).

So I basically dove into the kitchen and deployed a bit of everything from the Asian section of my spice rack: Thai flavors, Indian flavors, Chinese flavors, Vietnamese flavors, you name it. It's all in there, it's all good, and the combination will make your house smell amazing, your tummy feel happy and loved, and your nose run just enough to let you know it's working. So leave that thermostat alone for a little while longer, and warm yourself up from the inside with some soup.

Spicy Pan-Asian-Inspired Soup
~ 2 cans light coconut milk (about 4 cups)
~ 4 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1/2 tsp. saffron threads
~ 1 tsp. each: red and green Thai curry pastes
~ 1 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 2 fat cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 tbsp. grated ginger
~ 1 carrot, cut into 1/2" matchsticks
~ 1 small red bell pepper, diced
~ 1/2 lb. extra firm tofu, cut into small cubes
~ 1 tbsp. each: soy sauce, hot sauce (I used Sriracha)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: turmeric, garam masala, five spice powder
~ 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 6 scallions, thinly sliced
~ 1/2 lb. chopped, frozen spinach, thawed

~ In a large beaker, combine the coconut milk, broth, bay leaves, saffron, and curry pastes. Microwave on high for a few minutes until hot but not boiling (you can also do this in a pot on the stove, obviously). Cover and set aside to seethe.
~ In a large pot, melt the coconut oil, add the sesame oil, and saute the garlic and ginger over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds.
~ Add the carrots and bell peppers, and cook about two minutes before adding the tofu, soy sauce, hot sauce, and dry seasonings. Stir to coat and cook another minute or two.
~ Add the mushrooms and continue cooking about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until they've given up most of their liquid.
~ Add the sliced scallions, cook for about a minute, and then pour in the coconut milk/broth mixture.
~ Cover the pot, bring just to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
~ Stir in the thawed, frozen spinach and cook 5 minutes more. Remove the bay leaves and serve hot.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pumpkin, Apple, and Walnut Muffins

My kitchen is full of apples, but not as full as it was about a week ago, when we came home from a local orchard with an enormous quantity of Golden Delicious, Cortlands, Mutsus, and Macouns. In the days since then, I've put them to use in a variety of ways both sweet and savory, including today's maximum-bang-for-your-minimum-buck standby: muffins. This version features a combination of classic seasonal signifiers, and I promise that the mere smell of them baking away in the oven will remove any lingering doubt that decorative gourd season has officially arrived.

Apples and nuts, and pumpkin cut from rind!
Bring through my lips to my awaken'd mouth
The triumph of a bakery! O Fall,
If muffins come, can pie be far behind?

Pumpkin, Apple, and Walnut Muffins
~ 2.5 cups flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger
~ Dash nutmeg
~ 2 small, tart apples, diced
~ 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
~ 1 cup pureed pumpkin
~ 3/4 cup plain, unsweetened almond milk (or a little more)
~ 1/3 cup maple syrup
~ 1/4 cup canola oil
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 2 tsp. sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit and coat a muffin tin with cooking spray.
~ Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl and sift well.
~ Add the diced apple and chopped walnuts and mix well to coat them with the flour mixture.
~ In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin, almond milk, maple syrup, canola oil, and vanilla extract and stir until smooth.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually add the pumpkin mixture, stirring with each addition until all the ingredients are combined.
~ Spoon the batter into your prepared muffin tin, and sprinkle the tops with the sugar/cinnamon mixture.
~ Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
~ Allow the muffins to rest in the pan about for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Barley and Lentil Pilaf

I love barley. I love its chewy, nutty, homespun-tasting earthiness. I love it in bean soups, in vegetable soups, and in "meaty" stews. I love it as non-rice risotto. I love it in its greatest and noblest form: beer. And I love it as the basis for this simple and delicious pilaf, which can serve as a main course, or as a side dish in a more elaborate meal. This is one of those times when it pays to get some high-quality barley from a specialty market or health food store, because you really want to taste the grain, and old, hard, stale barley just won't cut it. I made this pilaf to accompany this dish, which I'd originally planned to serve with short grain brown rice; finding we were out of the latter, I decided to experiment with what was on hand. And I'm really glad I did, because the end result was a definite keeper, and one I'm happy to share with you here.

Barley and Lentil Pilaf
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1/2 small onion, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
~ 1 stalk celery, diced
~ 1 small carrot, diced
~ 1.5 cups pearl barley
~ 1/2 cup brown lentils
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, Adobo seasoning
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, cumin
~ 1 large bay leaf
~ 4 cups water

~ In a medium-sized saucepan, saute the onion, celery, and carrot in the oil for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the barley, lentils, and spices, and cook another minute or two, stirring, until then barley gives off a toasty smell.
~ Pour in the water, cover the pot, and raise the heat to high. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook 25-30 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ Remove the bay leaf, fluff with a fork, and serve.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tofu, Apples, and Leeks in a Gingery Cream Sauce

Today's recipe is the quintessence of autumn, and it's also one of my favorite home-cooked (by me) meals. In fact, I'm going to come clean and confess that I was so impressed with myself while eating it that I kept wriggling in my seat and making immodestly appreciative yummy sounds, because this is honestly like something you'd get in a restaurant.

There's a good reason for that, because it was loosely inspired by a dish I enjoyed at a local seafood place years ago (when I still ate ocean critters) featuring scallops, apples, and a cream sauce with maple and ginger. I love the combination of sweet and savory, and with a bushel of freshly-picked apples cluttering up the kitchen, I wanted something besides the usual pies and muffins, and decided to give this idea a shot.

And holy moly: what a success! It looks like - nay, it is - several steps, but it actually comes together pretty quickly, and if you want to use multiple pans everything can be done concurrently, aside from marinating the tofu. Even doing them all separately, I had dinner on the table about two hours after first conceiving the idea, which is relatively speedy for a meal that feels as high-concept (yet cozy) as this one. I served it with barley and lentil pilaf, which was a perfect combination of tastes and textures, but brown rice or another whole grain would also do nicely.

The Tofu
~ 1 14 oz. package tofu, drained and pressed
~ 2 tbsp. each: soy sauce, apple cider
~ 1 tbsp. each: maple syrup, canola oil
~ 1 tsp. each: prepared mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce (I used Frank's)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: ground ginger, sage, garlic powder
~ Dash each: cinnamon, cayenne

~ Slice the block of tofu vertically down the middle, and then cut each half horizontally into thirds. Slice each of these in half on the diagonal so you have 12 triangular pieces. (I hope that make sense; I promise the mathy part of this enterprise is now over.)
~ Mix the remaining ingredients together and pour into a large, shallow baking dish.
~ Arrange the tofu pieces in the pan, and flip them over to coat them with the marinade. Allow to rest for at least an hour (most of the liquid will be absorbed).
~ Heat a non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and cook the tofu pieces for 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer the cooked tofu to a dish and cover to keep warm.

The Leeks and Apples
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 2 large leeks, sliced thin
~ 2 large apples, quartered and sliced into thin crescents
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, white pepper

~ In the same skillet, melt the margarine over medium heat and cook the leeks for 2-3 minutes, stirring to break them into rings.
~ Add the apples, salt, and pepper and continue cooking 12-15 minutes, until soft and slightly browned (add a splash of water or - better yet - apple cider if it starts to stick).
~ Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.

The Ginger Cream Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 tbsp. fresh, grated ginger
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, English mustard
~ Dash each: cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 2.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. maple syrup

~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over medium heat and saute the ginger for about 30 seconds.
~ Add the salt, mustard, cinnamon, turmeric, flour, and about 1/4 cup of soy milk. Cook for another 30 seconds or so to make a roux.
~ Gradually add the maple syrup and the remaining soy milk, stirring constantly, and continue cooking over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until slightly thickened.
~ Remove from heat.
~ To serve, arrange the tofu and the apple-leek mixture over rice, barley, or other grain, and ladle the sauce over the whole business. YUM.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes with Spinach

Scalloped potatoes is one of those ur-comfort dishes: just the name conjures up images of a lipsticked, be-pearled, and manicured mom bustling around in an apron while dad reads the paper in his armchair and Buddy and Sis keep busy with whatever the hell Buddy and Sis do, before they're all called to the impeccably set (on a weeknight!) family table.

Of course, the reality - then as now, in all likelihood, although it wasn't necessarily reflected in popular culture - is that everyone is running in opposite directions, and the dining room table, if it even exists, is more apt to be covered in unopened mail, neglected projects, and random crap than a tablecloth, china, and silverware. In fact, there are days when mealtimes feel (and maybe even look) like this:

(I assume her martini glass is obscured by the smoke.)

But even if our daily lives bear precious little resemblance to those of the Cleavers, the Nelsons, or indeed the Huxtables (who had two careers, five kids, and an improbably tidy house), a dinner featuring scalloped potatoes makes everything seem just as it should be. My updated take on this old-school classic uses pureed cashews for creaminess and protein, with some spinach thrown in for color and a gesture towards "vegetables" without undoing that podgy vibe so important to a dish like this.

Because you know what? It's never too late to have a happy childhood, and there's no better place to start than with a great big pan of golden, bubbling carbohydrates!

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes with Spinach
~ 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water for at least an hour
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 small onion, diced
~ 1 fat clove garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 2 tbsp. chopped, fresh sage (1 tsp. dried)
~ ½ tsp. white pepper
~ Dash mace
~ ½ lb. frozen spinach, thawed
~ 2.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
~ 5 large Yukon gold potatoes, sliced very thin (about 1/8” inch)
~ 1/2 cup breadcrumbs or (my recommendation) crushed Ritz crackers 

~ Grease a 9 x 13” baking dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the margarine and cook the onions over medium heat until quite soft, about 10 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, sage, salt, white pepper, mace, and spinach. Continue cooking about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is wilted.
~ In a food processor or blender, puree the drained, soaked cashews with the soy milk and the nutritional yeast until smooth.~ Add the pureed mixture to the onions and spinach, combine thoroughly, and cook about 5-7 minutes longer.
~ Ladle about a scant cup of the sauce into the bottom of your greased casserole, and line the pan with half of the potato slices, making sure they overlap without any gaps.
~  Pour half the sauce over the potatoes, and then layer the remaining potatoes over that. Pour on the rest of the sauce, smooth with a spatula, and sprinkle breadcrumbs or crushed crackers over the top.
~ Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Remove the foil, hit the topping whit a shot of cooking spray, and cook about 15 minutes longer, until browned and bubbly.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mushroom Sauce

Here's another from our dear Mrs Peel, complete with her usual lunatic quantities and cooking times, bless her. While I can't say for certain what would happen if I were to follow her recipe as written and cook 1/2 lb. of mushrooms with 2 tbsp. fat, 1 tbsp. of flour, and 1/2 cup of milk (that's a gill, in case you were wondering) for an entire hour, I'm guessing that "sauce" might not be the most applicable description for the results.

That said, an (admittedly rather freely) adapted treatment of the same ingredients yielded a deliciously mushroomy sauce that went beautifully with the walnut cutlets from my most recent post. It's very nice on its own as a gravy, and I think it would also make a fine addition to pot pies, casseroles, and/or wintry stews, especially as the cool weather sets in.

Mushroom Sauce
~ 1-2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1/2lb mushrooms, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, white pepper, sage
~ Dash mace
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 bay leaf

~ In a saucepan or beaker, combine the soy milk and then bay leaf and bring nearly to a boil on the stove or in the. microwave. Cover and set aside to seethe.
~ In a large skillet, melt the margarine and cook the mushrooms over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to be sure they don't stick (add a splash of water if they do).
~ Add the flour, salt, white pepper, sage, thyme, and mace, and stir for a few seconds.
~ Gradually begin pouring in the warm milk, stirring constantly.
When all the milk has been added, continue cooking over medium-high heat for another 10 minutes or so, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened a bit.
~ Remove the bay leaf and pour on things.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Walnut Cutlets

The Win the War Cookbook, published in 1918 by the St  Louis County Unit of the Woman's Committee Council of National Defense (not to be confused with its British anologue, The Win-the-War Cookery Book, which appeared the same year) offers the following calendar to help the thrifty, patriotic housewife keep track of what her family should and should not be eating on particular days.

SUNDAY: One wheatless meal, one meatless meal.
MONDAY: Wheatless day, one meatless meal.
TUESDAY: Meatless day, porkless day, one wheatless meal.
WEDNESDAY: Wheatless day, one meatless meal.
THURSDAY: One meatless meal, one wheatless meal.
FRIDAY: One meatless meal, one wheatless meal.
SATURDAY: Porkless day, one wheatless meal, one meatless meal.
EVERY DAY: Save wheat, meat, fats, sugar to create provision for our armies and the allies. Temporarily to save wheat, Food Administration asks you to observe beefless and porkless Tuesday, but not meatless meals and porkless Saturday.

The authors also have this to add, on the value of nuts as meat substitutes: "The protein of nuts as far as known at present has not the value of animal protein. When used with some cheese, milk or meat they make an excellent meat substitute. When used without these they make good meat savers. With the constant tendency toward higher cost of meat and the necessity of shipping meat to our allies and our own soldiers (for they in their exposed life need the blood producing elements of meat) and with the growing knowledge of nut culture we may look for a much larger use of nuts as 'meat substitutes.'"


All I'll say about this is that between "porkless Saturday," "observe beefless and porkless Tuesday," and "nut culture," I've got some new favorite euphemisms. I've also a got some pretty decent walnut cutlets, inspired by the recipe pictured above in our friend Mrs CS Peel's Eat-Less-Meat Book; after some rationalization (you might be interested to know that a gill is equal to about 1/2 cup, and I'm bound to say that using a pound of breadcrumbs for anything in 1918 seems not only excessive and improbable, but borderline treasonous), these came together quickly and turned out quite well. I also made a version of the recommended mushroom sauce to accompany them, which I'll share in another post.

Vive le nut culture!

Walnut Cutlets
~ 1 tbsp. oil
~ 1 small onion, chopped
~ 1 cup chopped, shelled walnuts
~ 3 slices lightly toasted, crumbled bread (I used Ezekiel)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, sage, thyme
~ Dash mace
~ A grind or two of pepper
~ 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed

~ In a skillet, saute the onion in the oil for 5-7 minutes, until quite soft. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
~ In a small bowl, beat the flaxseed with the soy milk for about a minute, until slightly thickened.
~ Combine the walnuts, the toasted bread, and the spices in a food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs.
~ Add the cooked onions and flaxseed/soy milk mixture and blend for another minute.
~ Transfer the mixture to a bowl and allow to rest for about 10 minutes, and then form into cutlets (I got 4 large-ish ones from this recipe).~ Fry over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes each side. Bear in mind that the walnuts have a fair amount of fat in them, so you can cook these in a non-stick skillet, or in a cast iron pan with a very thin coating of oil or cooking spray.
~ Serve immediately; we had ours with baked potatoes, braised carrots, and mushroom sauce.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cauliflower Pasanda (in which I brazenly ignore my MoFo theme)

Okay, I am totally cheating on my WWI theme with this recipe (well, maybe not totally, since India was still a British colony at the time, and thus contributed its fair share of blood, sweat, and tears to the war effort), but let's face it: my partner's thoughtful, articulate guest post about substitution, reinterpretation, and the evolving senses of ersatz is a pretty tough act to follow.

And besides, this dish is just too good not to share; the minute I saw it in The Guardian I knew it had to be veganized ASAP, because what's not to like about roasted caulifower in a creamy sauce with nuts and raisins?  (Note: the name "pasanda" comes from the Urdu word for "like" or "favorite." It also makes me think of pandas, which everyone likes, and are in fact many people's favorite animal. Coincidence? I don't think so.)

My main substitution was coconut milk in place of the dairy in the original; I also added chickpeas for protein, increased the number and quantity of spices, and used cashews instead of almonds because A. that's what we had, and B. we like them better anyway. The end product was every bit as good as I'd hoped: absolutely delicious on the first night, and even better as leftovers, which disappeared very quickly. All in all an unqualified win, and definitely one to put into regular rotation. Enjoy it while you can, kids, because tomorrow we're back on rations!

Cauliflower Pasanda
~ 1 large head cauliflower
~ 1-2 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cumin seeds, mustard seeds
~ 1 large yellow onion
~ 4 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
~ 1 small red bell pepper, diced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, garam masala, fenugreek powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: turmeric, cayenne (more or less to taste)
~ Generous dash mace
~ 1 14. oz. can chickpeas, drained
~ 3/4 cup raisins
~ 2 14 oz. cans coconut milk
~ 3/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro
~ 3/4 cup chopped, toasted cashews

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Separate the cauliflower into small florets and chop the stalks into bite-sized pieces. Arrange the cauliflower on a baking sheet, coat with a little oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the coconut oil over medium heat and toast the cumin and mustard seeds for about a minute, until they begin to sizzle and pop. Add the onion and cook about 5-7 minutes, until softened but not browned.
~ Add the garlic, ginger, red bell pepper, and seasonings. Cook a few minutes more, until fragrant.
~ Stir in the chickpeas, raisins, and coconut milk, cover the pan, and bring nearly to boiling.
~ Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the raisins plump up and all the flavors blend together.
~ Add the cauliflower and fresh cilantro, mix well, and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Stir in the toasted cashews, taste for seasoning, and serve hot over basmati rice; as ever, some spicy pickle wouldn't come amiss.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ersetzen wir's!

Greetings to the Elizavegan community! Desdemona’s domestic partner here, with another in my series of biennial guest posts. I’m pretty excited (well, quite excited) by her 2014 MoFo theme of World War I austerity. As a Canadian expat living in the US, the WWI centenary has brought me a lot of feelings about nationalism, sacrifice, and ways of remembering

As a school kiddie in a grade too distant to remember, I wore the poppy, memorized and recited the poem (John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” of course), learned the main narrative and the battles as the books told them, and attended very solemn Remembrance Day assemblies which, remarkably for ceremonies with small children involved, actually did make me think very seriously about the important issues at hand without generating too much boredom or mockery. (Really, the only thing you could call mockery was the traditional taking of the red plastic poppies, turning them inside out, and putting them into our mouths to simulate a lady wearing lipstick, which was well off the WWI topic but frankly hilarious to this day. I have definitely done this in the last five years.)

Later this year, Desdemona and I will visit the “Tower of London Remembers” installation, which has distributed 888, 246 poppies in, on, through, and around the Tower of London, spilling out of windows and into the grassy moat. That’s one for every British and Colonial military fatality during the war. (If you have £25 to spare and care to buy a poppy, the proceeds go to charity.)

As a previous post noted, the promotion of wartime austerity involved a certain amount of semantic freedom in bandying about terms such as “pie,” “loaf,” “roast,” and “pudding.” If you were a propagandist of the newly-created Ministry of Food or the author of The Win-The-War Cookery Book, you would have had a strong interest in convincing your audience that they could cut out the meat, most of the fat, and the entire crust, and still call it a pie. 

This idea started me thinking about the concept of food substitutions and replacements in times of both war and peace, and the linguistic gestures involved with selling them. The German noun Ersatz, from the root verbs setzen “set, put, place” and ersetzen “replace,” conveys no more disapproval than its English counterparts “substitute” and “replacement,” and indeed the word made its way into English in the late 19th century with a mostly neutral connotation. 

But the word spread during World War I and spiked even more during WWII, and as many countries introduced austerity and food rationing, “ersatz” increasingly connoted an inferior replacement, specifically one foisted on consumers in a deliberate attempt to deceive. Ersatz coffee was ersatz coffee; one might have chosen or been forced to drink it for the sake of the war effort, but coffee it was not. Ersatz’s semantic range quickly expanded beyond the food kingdom: a 1918 review of an art exhibition at the Imperial War Museum complained that the artist had “an ersatz rhythm, too mechanical and academic any longer to suggest true movement.”

This line of thinking led to the increasing availability these days of products intended to imitate, simulate, approximate, or replace foodstuffs that some eaters avoid for ethical, health, or environmental reasons: examples include a huge variety of “faux-meat” products, usually made from soy or wheat protein, that simulate, or claim to simulate, or try to simulate hamburgers, hot dogs, beef, pork, chicken, fish, shrimp, ham, and any number of other animal products; cheeses made from soy, arrowroot, or fermented cashews; egg replacers with various stuff and things in them. 

Less deliberate and more ambiguous are products like tofu, seitan, and nut and rice milks that may seem like substitutes to those who consume meat and dairy but probably just come across as normal food to most vegetarians and vegans. [Parenthetically, the English word “meat” meant simply “food” for more than four centuries before it was restricted to animal flesh, and “milk,” although it first referred to the traditional mammalian secretion, was used for liquid made from nuts, flowers, and plants from around 1400.]

In manufacture as in etymology, the Germans preceded the English in the matter of food replacements. During World War I, the city of Cologne, like the rest of the country, was hit hard by the British blockade. In the face of the wheat shortages especially, mayor Konrad Adenauer (later the first postwar chancellor), devised a wheat-free bread made from rice, barley, and Romanian corn flour; when Romania's entry into the war dried up the supply of corn flour, the inventive Adenauer came up with a soy-based vegetarian sausage dubbed Friedenswurst, or "peace sausage." 

Adenauer applied for a patent with the Imperial Patent Office in Germany but was turned down on the grounds that if it didn't contain meat, it wasn't actually a sausage. Strangely, he had better luck in Britain, where he obtained a patent for the sausage in June 1918. I haven't tracked down the ultimate source of this information or the ins and outs of a German getting a British patent in 1918, but I suspect that the Brits saw the possibilities for vegetable-based sausages as a relatively appealing wartime austerity foodstuff.

[Another parenthesis: Field Roast, which makes excellent vegan sausages, has recently had its products pulled from grocery store shelves in Canada on the grounds that they are selling a “simulated meat product,” which, if it is be sold legally, requires a Protein Efficiency Study ratio study conducted using live animals. The difference here, it seems to me, is that whereas the German sausage-makers astutely perceived a nascent threat to their livelihood in 1918, the Canadian sausage-makers astutely perceive a substantial and growing threat to their livelihood in 2014.]

Personally, I prefer to think of these new foods as analogues rather than replacements; pretty early in my life, I got the idea that dining maturity involved moving away from the idea that a meal was like a Broadway show with a big star (meat), a co-star (potatoes), and a supporting cast (vegetables). In my house these days, the analogues are occasional and interesting treats and variations rather than the centerpieces of an average meal. 

Furthermore, seven years on from the end of my meat and dairy era, I’ve sufficiently forgotten the exact tastes and textures to the point where I’m now just looking for new and satisfying gastronomic experiences rather than trying to recreate anything that my brain or taste buds could conjure up. I have noticed that some of my omnivore friends and acquaintances take exception and even umbrage when confronted with the idea of fake/replacement/substitute meat and cheese; a recent online comment described veggie-meat as “ignorant vegan slurry,” a phrase on which I have put a trademark in case I ever want to found or promote a band with that name.

Pondering the rationale, technology, and psychological justification for these kinds of foods makes me think that it might be time to rejuvenate the concept of Ersatz as a form of active engagement with one’s refrigerator, counter, stove, and table. Germans, Brits, and many other countries involved in the nasty business of war found it necessary to restrict some foods and make shift with others. Many people undoubtedly understood Ersatz not only as an inferior substitute, but as one foisted on them by a regime with a suspect wartime ideology. Nonetheless, a war was in fact on, and a lot of honest people, deceived or not, did their bit, with varying degrees of understanding, cheerfulness, and cynicism. The more neutral German meaning “substitute” or “replacement” simply conveys the basic idea that something is unavailable and something else needs to be there to fill its place.

If you are a person who chooses not to consume meat or dairy products, you are probably starting from familiar domestic and familial places inhabited by signifying foodstuffs that have meant nutrition, comfort, and loving goodness. Jonathan Safran Foer’s wonderful hybrid memoir/research project/jeremiad Eating Animals is largely concerned with the relationship between the food we eat and our continuing existence as individuals, families, and cultures. “The stories that are served with food matter,” writes Foer. “These stories bind our family together, and bind our family to others. Stories about food are stories about us – our history and our values.” In his Jewish family’s own terms, “eating and storytelling are inseparable – the saltwater is also tears; the honey not only tastes sweet, but makes us think of sweetness; the matzo is the bread of our affliction."

In this context of rich metaphor and deep signification, meaning is what matters. In a world guided by a profoundly moral match between belief and practice, Foer’s grandmother, as a starving Jewish child on the run from the Nazis, refused to eat pork when it was offered because, as she later put it, “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.” Logically, if not inevitably, the same woman in much later decades, heavily damaged by her wartime trauma, hoarding food in her basement, and stuffing her children and grandchildren to the point of bursting, happily vegetarianized her signature dish (chicken and carrots) to accommodate Foer’s on-again-off-again vegetarianism, still very much in flux when he wrote the book.

So what exactly is the point of Desdemona replicating economically and politically enforced WWI austerity in a privileged, postmodern vegan context? I’m sure more than one parent, whether or not they have known wartime or Depression deprivation, has despaired over a child’s willful refusal of nutritious, delicious, and hard-earned food. And indeed it may be a small number of people who make the analogy between their own sacrifice to a war effort or a country’s immediate needs and the next generation’s commitment to reducing suffering or saving the planet. The reason for restricting your diet might be imposed by the circumstances of war, the scarceness of resources, and the directives of those in power, with which you may or may not agree. It might, on the other hand, be an enactment of your personal beliefs or your wishes for a better world. And if some new combination of stuff that makes its way onto your plate, tastes good, helps you to do that, then by all means place it there. 
Ersetzen wir's!