Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Gas and Electricity Nazi (No Food for You)

I spent the majority of last week in Michigan visiting relatives. There was a funeral to attend for a very fun-loving, woodworking cousin who will be missed. After, of course, was Easter. The Friday between those two all-important events was my man's birthday (as well as Good Friday and Earth day). We made great plans for a Monday celebration of his 31st, complete with cake and special dinner, you know, when we returned to the normalcy of home.

Unfortunately, we woke on Monday morning to a problem with the gas line. No matter how much I click-clicked the starter, no flames filled the burner, nor the oven. The birthday feast got scrapped and we ended up eating canned soup with Easter candy for desert (Mom gave us a 6-pack of Reese Eggs).

The lack of gas also hindered my ability to make vegan muffins for my last poetry workshop class of the semester, which was to include a potluck feast as farewell. I, thus, came empty-handed.

The gas returned on Tuesday, when I have night class (and coincidentally a dinner consisting of potluck food from those members of the class with functioning stoves and ovens). Wednesday I was on campus all day for various classes and came home to scrounge in the cupboards for a quick meal. But I kept in mind that there would be Thursday. Thursday, I would make something great and new and I would be blown away by how it made my tastebuds dance. Instead, at 5 Thursday morning, the power went out due to a major windstorm that made clouds fly by as though they were jets. There was nothing to be done. Art managed to boil my tea water by taking a standard matchbook match to a burner with the gas on full. He almost singing off his arm hair in the process. We couldn't check email, do work on our computers, exercise via wiifit, or cook anything really respectable.

Instead, I read an entire book (Martini's Hillbilly Gothic) finished another knitted vegetable, took a long shower, drained my tea mug of its lemon/honey contents, and worried over how my new haircut would hairdry since I couldn't use the hairdryer. Then I looked to my cellphone to find that it was still only 11:30. Deflated, I got on the train and headed to campus, where my office has a functioning computer and an internet connection. When I got home at 7, the power was happily restored. Another night of potential meal creation thwarted by circumstance. This was a bad kitchen week.

On the plus side, my knitted amigurumi cuke is adorable.

The garlic I did my week in Michigan ended up quite nice as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lasagna Rollups Veggie-Sausage Style

While in Trader Joes, I searched and searched for seitan. I've never had it better, and considering that Vietnamese cooking uses this wheat protein frequently, I figured Vietnamese month was a good excuse to try it out. Unfortunately, the trader was fresh out. But they did have a sale on ground vegetarian sausage.

I used half of this delightful invention making an egg, sausage, and cheese pita. The stuff is quite tasty, however, at first, using it was a little off-putting. It looks so much like ground meat. Really, it was obvious that it wasn't meat, but still...

But that still left the other half. The package suggested to try it in lasagna and I thought, good idea. I turned to one of my favorite Rachel Ray knock-offs, my take on her lasagna rollups, lasagna without that pesky layering.

Sausage Lasagna Rollups
--adjusted from Rachel Ray--

8 lasagna noodles (whole wheat preferred)
1 box frozen spinach, thawed
3 T Parmesan Cheese
1 c cottage cheese
1/2 tube gimme lean ground sausage
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
spaghetti sauce
shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)

1. Cook noodles according to package. While it cooks, cook the sausage in a skillet 5 minutes per side and crumble.

2. In a med bowl, combine spinach, cottage cheese, parmesan, sausage crumbles, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

3. Spread mixture on cooked noodles one at a time. Roll the noodles up with filling and sit them, sides touching in a baking pan. Cover tops in sauce and top with moz. cheese.  Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Oatmeal done old school

I realized this week that I've never had oatmeal before. Oh sure, I've had food in a bowl made from oats whose package told me it was oatmeal but it was just not so. I found this out when I set about making from-scratch oatmeal made with old-fashioned oats and water.

Once, my man made a cherry pie from scratch with fresh-from-the-tree Michigan cherries. And it changed my notion of how delicious and real a cherry pie could taste. Eating my scratch oatmeal was a smaller version of that feeling, like I'm eating something that was made the same way for generations before me and will continue to be made that way in the future. When paper packets with microwave directions go out of style, there will still be this oatmeal.

Old School Oatmeal
--adjusted from the French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook--

1 c. oats
2 1/3 c. water
1 c. apple sauce
1/2 t lemon juice
1/3 c. soymilk
1/2 t butter
2 T cinnamon
raw sugar

1. In a med. saucepan, combine the oats with the water and a pinch of salt. Bring it to a boil.
2. Add applesauce and lemon juice and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to avoid the mix sticking to the bottom of the pan.
3. Add soymilk, butter, and cinnamon and stir.
4. Pour half of the pan into a bowl and add as many raisins and as much raw sugar as you fancy.

Admittedly, I added a little more sugar than I was proud to admit, but it was so delicious, it was gone before I could take a second picture.

Of course, this still left the other half of the pan, which I held in reserve in the frig in a long tubular plastic container. I ate it for breakfast the next morning, and I have to say, I wish I would have taken a picture of that oatmeal when I first plopped it back out of that container. It looked like a jello mold. A sand-colored jello mold. Or flan. And it jiggled like jello too. And flan.

I mushed it out into the bowl and added a little extra water. It microwaved right up and was just as tasty the second time.

(Also delicious with a sliced banana on top.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Vegetarian Knitaganza

In addition to experimenting in my kitchen, eating, and writing (not to mention reading, I also knit. I'm in a bit of a knitting craze actually. No matter what I'm doing, I would rather be knitting. It's an addiction to metal sticks and a ball of string.

Usually, what happens to be in my knitting bag has no relation to this blog, a blog of food. However, in my lasted project, my love of vegetables has combined with my love of turning fiber into fabric. I am making my nephew, for his second birthday, a basket of plush knit amigurumi vegetables, compliments of the patterns in the first section of Amigurumi Knits by Hansi Singh.

There is a tomato, an eggplant, a carrot, a cucumber, a peapod, even garlic. So far, I've finished the eggplant, tomato, and carrot. To go with it, I have an adorable T-shirt (size 3T) that I found on clearance at Target. The shirt features a cartoon broccoli floret and the words "Trust me. I'm delicious."

My main motivation for this: my one-year-old nephew's joy in life is food. His second joy is to play with pots and pans. When he turns two, I figure what's better than stuffed vegetables to put in his pots and his mouth. Yarn is baby friendly.

My secondary motivation for this: I want one kid in my family who appreciates a good vegetable, even if I have to brainwash him with clearanced fashion and stuffed animals.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Vietnamese Beef Noodles that contain no beef

Welcome to Vietnam month. All April long. The problem I'm having with Vietnam is that it is a country with more prevalent "goofy" ingredients that I do not own and refuse to buy. Oddly, the vegetarian recipes of Vietnam always use more of these ingredients than their meat dishes. Thus, I discovered a Beef Noodle dish (Me Xao) for which I just blatantly replaced beef with oven-baked tofu.

I was still left, despite all my substitutions, with the problem of a lack of two items: fish sauce and oyster sauce. I did some googling though and found that soy sauce can be (albeit poorly) substituted for fish sauce. Oyster sauce, I learned, could be substituted with a mix of soy sauce and stock. Thus, I just omitted both from my version and replaced them with stock and extra soy sauce.

Of course, this could turn out one of two ways: it would either be brilliant or horrendous.

Beefless Beef Noodles
-inspired by this Me Xao recipe

1 package extra firm tofu
drizzle of teriyaki

1 box egg, rice, or pasta noodles

2T oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T sesame seeds
1 bag frozen Asian veggie mix
2 c.  shredded cabbage
1 c. frozen spinach or kale
6 T soy sauce
1 c veggie stock

1. Cook the pasta according to box directions. After a recent sale, my pantry is filled with ronzoni garden delight linguine. I'm quite fond of it. It contains extra veggies and comes in a tricolor arrangement of yellow, red, and green. Whilst the pasta boils, preheat the oven to 350 and slice up the tofu into strips. Lay the strips flat on a baking sheet and sprinkle with allspice and drizzle with teriyaki. Pop in the oven for about 20-30 minutes, flipping halfway through.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet or wok to med-high heat. Add garlic and sesame seeds. Then, add bag of veggies, spinach (or kale, because that's what was in the freezer), and the cabbage. Saute until cabbage is tender. Less that 10 minutes, probably.

3. Add the soy sauce and the stock and heat. Then, add the noodles and stir well, making sure to reheat the noodles.

4. Top noodles with tofu strips and serve.

The force was with me and apparently so was Vietnam because this self-created Vietnamese beefless beef oddity actually tasted fantastic, with the soy and stock flavoring everything with a light, salty flavor. It also formed a nice optional broth at the bottom of the pan, so that people like me, who like a little soup with their noodle, can add extra broth to their bowls for a faux Asian soup and others can just have the noodles and such with no excess liquid.

Sometimes you throw things in a pot and out comes magic. This was one of those times. I really taught that kitchen who was boss and I have Vietnam to thank. Plus, I so love a meal I can eat with chopsticks.

Monday, April 4, 2011

So Sweet

Here in Cleveland, there's a cold on the loose, and my whole family, me included, has it. It's been a week of cough drops and tomato soup, tissues and tea.

I usually don't like anything extra in my tea. Cream and sugar is better left to coffee. Still, when the post-nasal gets drippy and your throat feels a little sore, there's nothing quite like a little lemon and honey in your tea. I came upon this wonderful combo at an IHop about a year ago. I ordered hot tea and got complimentary lemon and a tiny bowl of honey. I guess the server noticed my sniffles.

But that aside, there has been a lot of sweetness so far this week. There has been honey, in and out of tea. There has been cake, and where there's cake, there's frosting.

If there is one thing my mother taught me in the kitchen, it was how to make frosting. Every year, she'd plop us kids down with small bowls of very christmasy colored homemade frosting. At the table, to the delight of all, were several dozen sugar cookies cut to look like snowmen, boots, santa, deer, stars, bells, and that ever elusive angel, whose neck and wings were so thinly attached that one wrong move would break it in two or three pieces. The cutters were made of metal and were likely so old that they were lucky to have been spared a fate of supporting the war effort via scrap metal heap back in in the 40s.

Luckily there were some doubles, enough that I have a nice collection of good old cutters in my apartment kitchen, just in case I ever decide to make Christmas cookies despite our utter lack of counter space. But really, the sugar cookie isn't about the shape of the cutter. It's about the frosting, and I know the formula well after watching my mother time after time.

I've never made sugar cookies at this apartment, but I'm the go-to frosting maker. My man loves to bake: breads, cookies, cakes. For frosting, though, he never quite gets it right, though he's tried many recipes. The job always comes to me. "Honey," he'll say. "Make the frosting?" And so, I get out my index card, the only semblance of a recipe my mother could provide, on which is a listing of ingredients:

Mom's Frosting, it says.

Powdered Sugar
(Butter), where ( ) means optional
Flour - note that using whole wheat flour will create at interesting speckled effect

There are no amounts. For mom, frosting is instinctual. No batch is ever the same as the last. It is all based on how much she throws in and how her tastebuds are feeling on that particular day.

The real trick is to know the basic ingredients and basic amounts needed. Then, it's all in the taste test. I've come by my own basic amounts. For every 4 cups of powdered sugar, I put in 1/4 a cup of shortening. The milk, I eyeball, but it's probably close to 4 T. Then, I add maybe a T of butter and perhaps another 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, depending on consistency, plus a t of vanilla.

Now comes the hard part. Frosting, because its essentially creamed powdered sugar is very sweet, too sweet. The error most make is in forgetting that the best way to make good frosting great is to lessen the sweetness. And to do that, you need flour. a few pinches at a time. Mix it in and then taste. Mix and taste until your frosting reaches the point where its still sweet but not too sweet. Overdo the flour accidentally? Add more powdered sugar. Eventually you'll get it right. If your taste buds go numb, enlist the tongue of another. It takes a lot of test licks to reach the perfect frosting.

Perhaps this is why I so love the art of frosting as a writer. Making frosting is a lot like writing. It's really all in the revision.

This week, Art made a from-scratch chocolate cake, and sure enough, it wasn't long before I heard the good old "Honey, frosting?" And so I did what I do, passed down from mother to daughter. Does it really make better frosting? I think so and so does the cake-baker. But really, I have to admit, it's a nice excuse to eat lots of frosting before the cake is ever cut. It was good cake.