Wednesday, December 23, 2009

CSA and Moving Update

Saturday morning, we picked up our CSA veggies. Look! Potatoes! And green onions!

Itty bitty thinned carrots! And carrot tops, which I use like parsley.

And turnips! Er, turnips. What do you do with turnips? (To start with, you refrigerate them. I learned the hard way.)

I thumbed through my eleventy-billion cookbooks and finally settled on Turnips in Mustard Sauce from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. This cookbook is great for "what am I going to do with this?" cooking. And it didn't let me down.

I don't like to post recipes from cookbooks unless I change them significantly, but let's take a look at braising. Braising is great for root vegetables. Carrots, potatoes, beets, even radishes, are great braised. So no surprise that it worked well for turnips.

To braise, cut the vegetables into equal sized pieces so it cooks evenly. This can be hard with something knobby, but braising isn't about perfection. Brown the vegetables in a bit of oil. Sprinkle with some good old salt and pepper. Then add about a cup of flavorful liquid (I used vegetable broth this time, but wine works great, too) and simmer covered until the food is tender.

And here is the beauty of braising. After the food is cooked through, remove it to a bowl and leave the drippings in the pan. This is where the magic happens. Add a bit of starch to thicken (the recipe called for cornstarch, but the only starch I had was mystery bulk bin flour. Possibly spelt flour. Or maybe whole wheat pastry flour.) It doesn't really matter what starch you use, what does matter is that you mix it with a bit of liquid before adding it to the pan. This will prevent dreadful clumps from ruining your sauce. Add any seasonings you like (like mustard!), and cook until reduced to a thickish sauce.

Drizzle your pan sauce over the braised vegetables and sprinkle on whatever herbs you have on hand. Braises aren't always pretty, but a sprinkle of herbs will cleverly disguise this. (Jazz hands!) I used carrot tops. Because it's all I had.

We just moved into a new house, and the kitchen is the only room we haven't unpacked yet. Which is why I cobbled lunch together from some soggy unrefrigerated turnips, carrot tops, and mystery flour. But it was a tasty cobble, so don't hold it against the turnips.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ode to Soup

1. black bean soup
2. yellow pea and coconut soup
3. squash soup
4. Asian-style cabbage soup
5. black bean soup
6. tortilla soup
7. squash soup
8. squash soup
9. broccoli soup
10. cashew butternut squash soup
11. Thai curry soup
12. matzah ball soup
13. tortilla soup
14. green coriander and ginger broth
15. cholent
16. rajmah

How to Roast an Acorn Squash

We finally got something besides greens and radishes in our CSA box. And rumor is that tomorrow's box will have potatoes! Acorn squash was one of the vegetables we ate a lot of when I was a kid. Even though it takes awhile for squash to roast in the oven, the easy prep work and clean up make this a great weeknight dish.

Step 1: Cut the acorn squash in half. You'll want to use a sharp knife for this. Start cutting at the end opposite the stem. Carefully work your knife through until the squash is only held together by the stem. Wiggle your knife a bit until the stem pulls off, sticking to one side of the squash.

Step 2: Using a soup spoon, scoop out all the strings and seeds. You can separate the seeds later if you want to roast them. Don't worry if one or two strings remain. Eating the strings won't hurt you, it's just not the most pleasant texture.

Step 3. Drizzle the squash with a small amount of olive oil or put a small pat of EB in the cavity. Sprinkle with salt. You can also sprinkle a bit of brown sugar in the cavity at this point if you'd like. It makes a nice sauce with the squash juices and might encourage a reluctant squash-eater.

Step 4: Roast at 350-400 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours or until a fork easily pierces the squash. The amount of time the squash takes to cook depends on the size of the squash and the temperature of your oven. The squash cooks faster at the higher temperature, but I often cook something else in the oven at 350 degrees at the same time. Either temperature works.

What to do with the roasted squash?
1. Eat with a spoon. One half serves one person.
2. Add roasted nuts and a drizzle of maple syrup.
3. Scoop out the flesh, boil in vegetable broth, and then puree to make a soup. A bit of maple syrup is a nice addition to acorn squash soup.
4. Mash with a spoon and a bit of EB.
5. Use as a serving dish for grains like rice or quinoa.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Compost Bins: A Little Help

We're moving into a new house soon, and I'm taking this opportunity to improve my composting system. I grew up composting in side-by-side open piles contained by bricks or concrete blocks, and this is pretty much what I have now. It's a bit slow, but really easy. I want something more contained this time around. Our new back yard has chain link fencing, and an open compost pile isn't very pretty to look at. Also, contained composting systems break down the organic materials more quickly.

I'm not interested in buying a compost bin. I want to make something so I can tailor it to fit my needs exactly and so I can control the costs. My main concerns are cost and laziness (as in, I am lazy). The two homemade systems I'm seeing are

1) Chicken wire supported by poles. Pros: we have chicken wire that the previous owners left, and this is a pretty easy construction. Cons: In order to stir the compost, you have to move the wire structure, stir, and then shovel the compost back into the container. This is a bit of work, though not too bad if I'm only stirring once or twice a month (note: see laziness).

2) An old metal trashcan with holes drilled in it. Pros: Stirring is easy since you just roll the can on its side a bit. Cons: I would have to find an old metal trashcan.

Have you had any success building a compost system? Are you lazy, too? What works for you?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Chanukah!

We had two things to celebrate today: the second night of Chanukah and Dewey's reintroduction to fatty food after having his gallbladder surgery.

This is not my family's latke recipe. My mother grates her potatoes and onions (by hand!) into a paste, much like her potato kugel recipe. I love her latkes. But the race to grate all the potatoes by hand before they turn pink and then brown is too stressful for me. Dewey and I have our own latke recipe that's easier. It uses the food processor to cut the potatoes and needs only pantry staples.

Not My Mother's Latkes

3 large russet potatoes*
1 onion
4 tablespoons corn starch
4 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper

Peel the potatoes and onion. Shred the potatoes in the food processor. Remove to a clean towel and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible. Shred the onion in the food processor. Combine the onion and potato in a large bowl. Sprinkle with corn starch, flour, salt and pepper. Use your hands to combine. When you squeeze the potatoes with your hand, it should form a loose clump. Keep the potato mixture covered with a damp towel while you work to keep the potatoes from browning.

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a cast iron skillet on medium heat. Grab a handful of potato mixture. Squeeze, flatten, and then drop it carefully into the hot oil. Try not to crowd the pan too much. I can usually fit about four latkes into my skillet at once. Fry for about five minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Remove to a rack to drain the oil. Repeat until done, draining any liquid that collects in the potatoes.

*It seems like you can only find giant russet potatoes at the supermarket these days. If you can find the much saner potatoes that are just about the size of a fist, use 4-6 potatoes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Words Out of My Mouth

I don't often repost others' material, but Robert Steinback said what I feel about health care better than I've ever said it. Health care coverage in the U.S. has had a profound impact on my life. It helped me decide what sort of jobs I should persue (ones at big corporations with good insurance plans). It chose the day I would be married (just before I quit my previous job). Hopefully, it will never choose the day I die.

From the St. Petersburg Times, by Robert Steinback

I am scheduled to begin dying on Feb. 1, 2010.

Although I have been an insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetic for 22 years, my health has always been very good. My condition has never impaired my enjoyment of life; I've never had a diabetic emergency.

Luck, of course, has played a part, as has educating myself about diabetes management. By far, though, the single most critical element of my vitality has been excellent health insurance coverage.

That will end on Jan. 31, the day my COBRA insurance benefits run out.

Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Texas FREAKS OUT when it snows. Or "snows". Once when I was a kid, they canceled school because there was snow forecast. It didn't snow. Snow-less snow day!

But the freak out is somewhat justified. There aren't any snow plows, no one keeps salt around for sidewalks or streets, and few people know how to drive in the snow. The city puts a bit of sand on the bridges, but that doesn't really do anything. We're just not prepared for winter weather.

There are some plusses to the insanity though. No salt to clean off your shoes or pants. Cars don't rust. And you have an excuse to stay home cuddled up in blankets with a mug of hot chocolate.

I'm off for the pre-snow grocery trip, mostly because Desmond is just about out of cat food. I'm also getting,

jasmine rice
plant milk (whatever is lowest fat)
green onions

Not exactly the standard milk, bread, and alcohol, huh?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chili on My Mind

Ever since the chili cookoff, I've had chili on my mind. The third place chili at the cookoff was a masala chili made by a woman who teaches Indian cooking classes here in Austin. Her masala chili and coconut chili were two of my favorites, and I'm glad she won.

I kept thinking about her masala chili all week, so I pulled out my copy of 660 Curies by Raghavan Iyer. Sometimes I think all the choices in this book have kept me from making more recipes. How do I pick which of the 660 curries to make? But this time, I opened the book with an agenda. I wanted to make rajmah, or kidney beans. I found a recipe for tamatar malai rajmah (slow-stewed tomato sauce with kidney beans), and it was exactly what I wanted.

The recipe turned out pretty well, though not as rich as I would have liked, but that's because I modified it. It calls for 1/4 cup fried onion paste, and that's one of the other reasons I haven't made many recipes from this book. Many call for small amounts onion paste or another kind of paste, but the recipes for these pastes make large amounts and don't keep long in the refrigerator. All that waste annoys me. And I'm pretty lazy. Instead I sauteed diced onion. I also left out the 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream the recipe calls for since Dewey is still on a low-fat diet.

But still, my chili craving wasn't over. Dewey has been asking for cholent lately, so it was the perfect time to make Jewish chili. Cholent is a stew that Jews make for Shabbat, when they can't cook any food. Cholent is started in a slow cooker or on a hot plate just before sunset on Friday night, it cooks all night long at low heat, and then it's eaten at Saturday lunch. Such a long cooking time, even at low heats, makes the beans and vegetables really soft, but in a good, comfort food way.

Vegan Cholent

1 T oil
1-2 onions
4-5 cloves garlic
3 red or yukon gold potatoes
2 carrots
2 1/2 cups mixed dried beans*, soaked for 8 hours
1/2 cup bulgur
vegetable bouillion cube**
12 ounces dark beer
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoons tarragon
2 teaspoons thyme
1 tablespoon paprika
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Turn on the slow cooker and heat the oil. Chop the potatoes and carrots into large pieces. You want them to be fairly large because they're going to cook so long. Add the onions and garlic to the slow cooker, cover, and let cook for about half an hour. Add the potatoes, carrots, drained beans, and bulgur. Add the bouillon cube and enough water to cover the beans. Add the beer, soy sauce and all the spices except for the salt and stir. Cover and cook 6-12 hours***, stirring occasionally. Once the beans are soft, add the salt. If the beans look dry, add more water. Eventually, the liquid will thicken into a tasty brown sauce. When you're ready to eat, adjust the salt to your taste.

*I used chickpeas, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, split peas, and lentils. Really, any combination of dried beans, peas, or lentils will work, just be sure to use at least three kinds.

**Feel free to use vegetable broth in place of the bouillon cube, or even just water and a bit more soy sauce.

***I know this is a big range for a cooking time, but this is a recipe that is meant to be flexible.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lonestar Vegetarian Chili Cookoff 2009

Dewey and I won second place at the Lonestar Vegetarian Chili Cookoff this year! Thank you to everyone who came out to support us.

It was a great experience. We were at the cookoff grounds at 7:30 AM. We shared our tent with a group from Fort Worth and another group from here in Austin. By 11:30 AM, we had cooked five gallons of chili over a propane stove. And by 3:30 PM we had served all five gallons, one half-ounce ladle at a time.

Our winning chili recipe is here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

CSA week 1

This stir-fry used the bok choy, tatsoi, and purple beans from this week's CSA. We didn't have enough of any of these vegetables to feed even one person, but combined all together (and with the addition of green and red bell pepper), it made a great meal.

Whole wheat pasta with broccoli rabe and vegan sausages. I ate mine with a garlic olive oil sauce, Dewey had his with tomato sauce.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First CSA Pick-Up

Our first CSA pick-up was just about what I expected. Saturday morning Dewey and I walked the .7 mile to the pick-up location. There were twelve identical boxes all lined up in a driveway. Our box contained bok choy, tatsoi, broccoli rabe, turnip greens, a small head of lettuce, two small yellow squash, a small handful of purple beans (like green beans, but purple), a sprig of rosemary, some basil-whose-name-I-can't-remember, and a couple of bonus radishes.

I expected to get a variety of greens, so that wasn't a surprise. What was a surprise were the small portions. The turnip greens, once cooked, yielded less than a cup of greens. Apparently the woman who is organizing the CSA expected mainly single people, so the vegetables are portioned for just one eater.

I nibbled on the radishes dipped in EB and sea salt while Dewey and I came up with ideas on how to cook everything this week. We had a few bell peppers lingering in the crisper drawer to use up as well. Here is what we came up with.

Saturday: Turnip greens, smashed pink beans, and rosemary baking powder biscuits.

Sunday: 2.5 gallons of our chili as practice for the Lonestar Vegetarian Chili Cookoff

Monday: Pizza (using frozen dough I made earlier)

Tuesday: Stir-fry using bok choy, tatsoi, bell peppers, and green beans. The stir-fry also had tofu and soba noodles.

Wednesday: Pasta with broccoli rabe (quick dinner because I took the GRE earlier today)

Thursday: Take out (we're closing on our new house!)

Friday: Roasted poblano peppers stuffed with leftover chili and probably more chili in corn or flour tortillas

Saturday: Out to dinner (it's Dewey's birthday!), also next share pick-up

Sunday: Lonestar Vegetarian Chili Cookoff! Come by and say hello!

For lunches this week, I'll eat the yellow squash, salad greens, and whatever chili we can't freeze or offload.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I love our neighborhood. Most of the houses were built in the post-World War II boom. There's a good range of ages, from original 50s homeowners to young professionals and everything in between. People are constantly outsides walking their dogs or gardening, and it's great to see so many people walking and taking public transportation.

This is Domino the Pig. He's the neighborhood mascot. He escaped from a petting zoo at a neighborhood festival and roamed the neighborhood for months before he was adopted by a resident.

Here's Dewey posing with Domino at the Violet Crown Spring Festival, just after swine flu first appeared in the U.S. There's a spring festival and a fall festival every year featuring the work of local artists, musicians, and chefs.

Lala's is the neighborhood dive bar. It's Christmas themed. Really. There's a string of elves that dance when you open the door to the men's room. The juke box is half Sinatra and Elvis, half Christmas carols. A warning to Austinites, people still smoke here.
The heart of the neighborhood is the Crestview shopping center. Most of these businesses have been here forever. The pharmacy still sells flashcubes. The independent grocery store has a great beer selection and the cheapest avocados in town. The Little Deli is always mobbed when it's open.

The newest reason I love my neighborhood, though, is our new CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Community Supported Agriculture is when a farmer sells shares of his produce to a group of people in advance. CSAs are usually some of the most sustainable farms around, and they often hold classes on gardening, composting, and cooking on pick-up days.

This CSA is one of a kind. It's a non-profit neighborhood-based program, and there's a focus on making the shares affordable. All of the produce is grown in the neighborhood, and all the shares are sold to people within the neighborhood. It's a great combination of sustainable agriculture and community.

I pick up my first share tomorrow, and I'm excited to see what will be in my box.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pantry Soup

Dewey and I have something fluish. So there hasn't been much cooking going on. Lots of graham crackers and peanut butter and whole wheat English muffins with EB and marmite on my end. Dewey's been subsisting on frozen pizza and ramen. We're both topping it off with lots of gingerale. I'm trying not to remember the last time we ate a vegetable.

Yesterday, I was finally able to stand up long enough to make real food. So long as it didn't require too much standing up. So I threw together a bunch of pantry staples for a quick Thai-style soup.

This was half a bag of frozen vegetables, some pearl onions that have been languishing in the freezer, lite coconut milk, vegetable broth, noodles, a bit of red curry powder, and about a cup of basil from the garden.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Asian-style Cabbage Soup

This soup, despite its looks, is one of my favorites. It's loosely adapted from this recipe on Epicurious.

I love this recipe the way I make it. It uses up that half head of cabbage that lingers in the vegetable bin. It has soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat, a diabetic-friendly grain. And it easily scales to fit whatever amount of cabbage or noodles I have on hand.

This is, very loosely, how I make the soup.

Asian-Style Cabbage Soup

1 head cabbage, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch ginger, minced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Sherry
3 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
vegetable broth
2 bunches of soba noodles

Saute cabbage in sesame oil until tender but not mushy, about five minutes. Add garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the other seasonings and enough vegetable broth to cover by about two inches. Bring to a boil. Add soba noodles, and cook according to the directions on the package.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Spice Collection

This is my spice collection. It actually looks smaller in the photo than it is in reality. That's a table that easily sits four. I have a lot of spices. Probably too many.

Everyone else loves lists as much as I do, right? Here's what's pictured, loosely categorized.

Spice Mixes
pasta sprinkle
Cajun seasoning
Louisiana seasoning
seasoning salt (2)
herbs de Provence (2)
jerk seasoning
cinnamon sugar
Chinese five spice powder
taco seasoning
Old Bay-type seasoning
Magic Barbecue seasoning
pizza seasoning
English prime rib rub
creamy peppercorn dressing mix
phuket (green curry powder)
chiang mai (red curry powder)
panch phoran
ras-el hanout
tandoori spice blend
fish boil

Salts and Peppers
black peppercorns
Balinese long pepper
kosher salt
sea salt
iodized salt
black salt
celery salt

Sweet Spices
whole nutmeg
cinnamon sticks
ground cinnamon
Chinese Cassia cinnamon
ground ginger
ground allspice
whole cloves
ground cloves
vanilla bean
green cardamom

Things Made from Red Pepper
pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
chili powder (4)
sweet paprika
crushed red pepper (2)
cayenne pepper

Indian Spices
whole mustard seeds
ground mustard seeds (2)
curry powder
black cardamom
ground coriander
whole coriander
garam masala

Green Herby or Seedy Things
rosemary (2)
whole cumin
ground cumin
tarragon leaves
marjoram leaves
ground marjoram
fennel seeds
bay leaves (2)
caraway seeds
gumbo file
rubbed sage
ground sage
ground thyme

garlic powder
onion powder
star anise
poppy seed
sesame seed
kelp granules

I honestly don't have any idea what to do with some of these. Some are spices that I bought on a whim (Chinese five spice powder). Some are gifts from family and friends (English prime rib rub). Some wandered into my cabinets when Dewey and I moved in together (Magic Barbecue Seasoning).

I spent part of the weekend looking up recipes to use some of these up. I hate throwing out food, but it really is time to pare down.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food

I'm really excited about all the great new vegan cookbooks that are coming out. Thanks to a gift certificate that showed up at just the right time, I was able to try one of them out.

Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food by Alicia Simpson delivers exactly what it promises. The recipes come together quickly and without too much mess in the kitchen. The trade-off is that some of the recipes rely on vegan convenience foods such as chik'n patties, tvp, and vegan cheeses. There are a number of new vegan cheeses that actually taste good, including sheese and cheezly. Unfortunately, these are hard to find in most of the U.S. still. And, in general, I'm not comfortable using these highly processed foods in my diet very often.

But that said, those products are in just a small number of recipes. Probably less than 10%. There are still plenty of recipes using whole food ingredients. I can tell that some of these recipes will be going on our list of foods to cook when we just don't feel like cooking.

The first thing I tried was the Fettuccine Alfredo (sauce two). It was incredibly good. Dewey and I have tried a few Alfredo recipes, and I think we've found the one we'll return to. Very occasionally, since this is definitely not health food. [No photo of this one.]

I also tried the Caesar salad dressing (sans croutons so I could have stuffing on the side). Again, Dewey and I both loved this. We've been eating salads with every meal this week.

There's an interesting recipe for tahini coffee that I couldn't resist. I have a weakness for unusual recipes. The coffee part of the recipe name is just referring to the color, NOT the taste. So don't expect coffee. It's sweetened with blackstrap molasses. I have to admit I almost never drink sweetened beverages because of my diabetes, so I wasn't as fond of this as the other recipes. But if you like tahini and molasses, you'll love this drink.

This is red beans and quinoa, a riff on red beans and rice. I really loved this. I'm a sucker for meals in bowls. The beans come together in less than ten minutes, so you can make this meal in the time it takes to make quinoa, usually about 20 minutes.

Other recipes I'm looking forward to trying out are gallo pinto (a bean dish for breakfast!), spicy soba noodles in peanut sauce, and wait for you stew.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Grandmas Cook It Better

It seems like everyone in MoFo Land is blogging about cooking with their grandmas or cooking their grandmas' recipes. It's no secret I love my grandmother, and I'm glad to see all the happy grandma posts.

Here's a sampling of the grandma love. If you posted about your grandma during MoFo, let me know and I'll add you to my list.

Bazu at Where's the Revolution? veganizes her grandmother's recipe for fesenjan.

Gwgjoan at The Geeky White Girl Grows Up veganizes her grandmother's stuffed cabbage.

Hannah at the House Vegan makes the Chex Mix her grandmother makes for holidays.

JohnP at The I-40 Kitchen talks about his first experience with raw food through his grandmother.

Kellybot remembers recording her grandmother making tamales.

Lazy Smurf's Guide to Life discovers recipes from both grandmothers in an old community cookbooks. She also cooks soup for her Baba.

Mihl at Seitan Is My Motor veganized her grandmother's sweet yeast bread.

Tara at The Snowy Vegan cooked a meal in honor of her great grandmother, who recently passed away.

Pesto By Any Other Name

It's that time of year when gardeners are harvesting all their produce before everything dies off in a freeze. We're a long way from a freeze here in Texas and there's not much in my garden to preserve, but I put up a few containers of pesto for the freezer this week.

They'll make nice quick dinners for busy nights this winter. So far I've had some spread on a toasted whole wheat English muffin and mixed with orzo and tomatoes.

There are lots of herb sauces similar to pesto. Chimmichurri is a parsley puree used in Latin cuisines. Pistou is a basil puree without nuts that's often swirled in soups. But don't feel confined to following a traditional recipe.

I've made pesto from spinach, parsley, cilantro, and chives. I bet mint or dill would be good too. And I can't think of many nuts or seeds that wouldn't taste good in pesto. I've used walnuts, cashews, pepitas, sunflower seeds, and almonds before. Sunflower seeds are one of my favorites since they're so cheap.

This pesto is basil, garlic, olive oil, nutritional yeast, cashews, pepitas, and salt.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Use It Up Cinnamon Rolls

I had about half a can of pumpkin puree leftover from making pumpkin muffins last week. After digging through my recipe collection, I came across this pumpkin cinnamon roll recipe. It fits in with my goals of not wasting food and mastering cooking with yeast, if not my goal of eating better.

The recipe uses 3/4 cup of pumpkin which is perfect. A can of pumpkin puree has about 1 3/4 cup of pumpkin. Most recipes use 1 cup of pumpkin, so this is the perfect recipe for using up the leftovers.

The recipe is from the cookzine Don't Eat Off the Sidewalk, issue number 2. I've tried several recipes from both issues, and they've all been great. Both issues can be purchased from Herbivore Clothing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Easy dinners

Some nights, dinner doesn't look like it will happen. It's 8 PM and you haven't started cooking. Or the vegetables have spoiled. Or your cat peed on the bed again, and you're too demoralized to cook.

We have a piece of paper on our fridge to remind us that dinner doesn't have to be complicated. We usually have the ingredients for these dishes hanging around the house and they come together quickly and without too much effort.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Leafy Greens

We all know we need to be eating plenty of leafy greens. Eating lots of leafy green vegetables is about the best thing we can do for our health. A diet with an abundance of leafy green vegetables is associated with stronger bones, better memory, and reduced risk of diabetes, colon cancer, cataracts, macular degeneration, and stroke.

But I'm often confronted with a vegetable drawer full of rotting greens at the end of a cooking week. If you're anything like me, you don't really know what to do with them. When I was growing up, the only greens that showed up on the table were an occasional salad, my mom's special fried cabbage, and Stouffers frozen spinach souffle. I'm sure my mom was served a pretty similar diet when she was a kid. It's challenging to include unfamiliar foods when you have no idea what to do with them.

We all know fifty ways to cook a potato, and it's no secret that Americans eat a lot of potatoes. So for a few years I've been collecting greens recipes as fast as I can. Kale hasn't replaced the french fries in my life, but I'm more likely to eat it if I know several ways to cook it.

At the top is an arugula salad with tahini dressing. Arugula has a strong, peppery bite to it. It's probably not a good green to start with if you're just branching out. Because it's so strong, I like to pair it with a really mild salad dressing. Usually I make one with tahini, rice wine vinegar, and a tiny bit of chili garlic sauce.

This is a salad inspired by my friend La. She grew up eating a salad with every lunch and dinner, and while we lived together I picked up her good habit. Too bad it didn't last when I moved out. La introduced me to fruit in salads. This one is romaine, half an apple, carrots, and pepitas. The dressing is Annie's Goddess Dressing. I would eat almost anything if you covered it in enough of that dressing.

I also love to eat saag (an Indian spinach puree), garlicky kale with tahini dressing, kale chips, and my mom's special cabbage stir fry (recipe coming soon).

How do you like to eat your greens?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tortilla Soup Redux

My friend Merf's tortilla soup is one of my favorite ways to use summer squash. This soup is never the same two times in a row. This time I added about a quarter cup of salsa to the broth. Dewey isn't really crazy about squash, so I was happy that he liked this.

When I planned to make this earlier in the week, it was about 60 degrees. It was in the 90s today when I finally made it. Whoops. So I had to follow it up with a mango fruit bar. To maintain balance in the universe and all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Brown Rice and Bowls

This is one of my favorite quick bites. Brown rice with EB, lemon juice, Tabasco, soy sauce, and a sprinkle of dill.

Monday, October 12, 2009


When I was about eight, my older brother and I pooled our money together to buy my mother a wok for her birthday. (Happy Birthday, Mom!) She never really used it, but my brother and I did. I suppose not having to cook dinner actually turned out to be a pretty good gift, even if it's not the gift we were aiming for.

The wok came with a little red booklet of recipes that my brother and I would pour through. One of our favorite things to cook was fried wontons. We usually filled our little squares of dough with cream cheese and deep friend them, calling it crab rangoon.

Dewey requested wontons for one of our meals this week. Weekends are perfect for food projects like this. So we pulled out our copy of The Asian Vegan Kitchen by Hema Parekh and found a recipe for gyoza with spicy soy vinegar sauce. The gyoza are filled with a cabbage tofu mixture. Instead of deep frying, we pan fried and then steamed the gyoza. Dipped in the vinegary sauce, these were perfect.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Grandmothers and Brownies

The world would be a much better place if everyone had a grandmother like mine. She is my biggest fan. I never finish a call to her without hearing gobs of praise. No matter how mundane or off-track my life seems to me, my grandmother always deems it "creative" or "adventurous." Every call ends with her asking me, "Have I ever told you how proud I am of you?"

In a world where we can be very critical of ourselves and those around us, it's comforting to have someone to turn to who will always be in your corner. It would be a poor life if everyone around us only heaped praise. But it would be pretty poor, too, if we only poured on the criticism.

Food is like that, too. Green leafy vegetables, beans, and whole grains are important. But a diet shouldn't list too far to either extreme. We need room for the things that serve no other purpose than to make us happy.

These are the brownies I made as a little kid, from a recipe written on an index card in my grandmother's handwriting. In jr. high, I made these moist brownies at least once a week, sending them home with my best friend without even taking a bite. (Sugar was strictly forbidden for diabetics in the early '90s.) But something about the motions of baking just seemed right to me.

Last Thanksgiving I found out that this isn't my grandmother's recipe after all, but Katharine Hepburn's. But that's OK. It will always be my grandmother's recipe to me.

Katharine Hepburn's Brownies, Veganized

1/2 cup Earth Balance (or other trans-fat free margarine)
2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup pureed silken tofu
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt the chocolate and Earth Balance over a double boiler. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until well combined. Add the pureed tofu and vanilla and stir together. With just a few strokes, stir in the flour and salt. Spread the batter in a well-greased 8" x 8" pan. Bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool before cutting.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hostess Gifts for Vegans

You're going to dinner at your new friends' house and you want to bring them a nice hostess gift. But they're vegan. No meat, no eggs, no dairy, no honey. Your famous cookies are out. As is your usual box of Godiva chocolates. What to bring?

It's actually not that hard. Most of the usual gifts are vegan or can be vegan.

It's probably not a good idea to give cats, but this box used to hold Dublin Dr. Pepper. Everyone loves Dublin Dr. Pepper.

Flowers are in.

So are beer and wine. Some beers and wines are vegan, some aren't. Those that aren't are filtered with gelatin or eggs or contain honey. Check here to see if your favorite alcoholic drink is vegan. It's not a comprehensive list though, and won't list things like local beers.

Chocolate is still in. Look for high quality dark chocolate. Whey is not vegan. Cocoa butter is.

Fruit is always nice.

Nuts are great, too. Check the ingredients for gelatin or eggs.

Nonfood items like napkins, dish towels, or candles are great. You can never have too many of these.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Finally, a garden success

In the spring, with optimism I planted rows and rows of vegetables. And they all died off. First the kale, then the carrots, the tomatoes, the corn, the squash, the strawberries, and the cucumbers. I was attacked by spider mites, snails, squash vine borers, aphids, and drought. I watered, sprayed with garlic juice and neem oil, and set up beer traps. Nothing seemed to work. So I gave up and let the weeds and bugs grow.

Until yesterday, when I discovered an eggplant! Not just one eggplant, but several. I'm going to have a harvest after all!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I've been trying to make an effort to eat more raw fruits and vegetables (and more fruits of any kind really). Whenever I get a perfect piece of produce, I thumb through all my cookbooks and scour the Internet for just the right recipe. But really, fruits and vegetables are pretty awesome all on their own. Sometimes, I forget that.

This salad is exactly what it looks like. Two mandarin oranges (so easy to peel and no seeds!), an avocado, 1/4 red onion, and lemon juice and zest. That's it.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Popcorn is one of the best snacks around. Cheap, healthy, easy to make, and pretty diabetic-friendly. Although popcorn is pretty high on the GI scale, a cup only has 5g of carbohydrate, so it's not hard to fit into a managed carb diet. And it counts as a whole grain.

The popcorn in microwaveable bags might be convenient, but you don't need all those added chemicals just for convenience. Making popcorn "from scratch" isn't any harder.

Popcorn and a paper bag are all you'll need. One pound bags of popcorn can be found on the same shelves as microwaveable popcorn for about $1 a pound. This is one of those cases where the cheaper option is better for you.

Pour your popcorn kernels into the bottom of the bag until they just cover the bottom.

Fold the top of the bag down. Alton Brown says you can staple the bag shut and the small amount of metal won't cause any microwave explosions. But really, that's not necessary. It's a waste of a staple; I've never had a bag unfold itself all the way in the microwave.

Place the bag in the microwave and set the microwave for 3 minutes. (There's no photo of this step, but you can imagine a microwave, right?) Stay within hearing distance of the microwave as the popcorn pops. When the popping slows down, stop the timer. For me this is usually around 2 minutes 30 seconds, but microwaves vary. The longer you leave the microwave running, the fewer unpopped kernels will remain. But you also risk giving the popcorn a faint burnt taste if you leave it in too long.

The bag expands a bit, but see, no popcorn explosions!

The angle is distorting this a little, but the bag is about 2/3 full now.

Pour the popcorn in a bowl. Choose a bowl that has more than enough room to hold all your popcorn, because now we're going to add our flavorings.

My favorite combo is Earth Balance (trans-fat free margarine), soy sauce, salt, and nutritional yeast. I mix the melted EB and soy sauce together beforehand so I don't end up with too strong of a soy sauce taste in any one handful of popcorn. Drizzle some liquid flavorings, sprinkle some dry flavorings, and repeat until you're through.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Top Ten Vegan Eats in Austin

Lazy Smurf's Guide to Life did a top ten list for vegan food in Austin. I thought I'd do the same. There's enough great vegan food in Austin for multiple top ten lists, so I'll come back and add links to any other lists that pop up over the month.

So, in no particular order, my favorite places to eat in Austin.

1. Pars Deli. The family that runs this place is really committed to quality food. If you ask them about any of the ingredients, not only can they tell you what's in everything off the tops of their heads, but they'll also tell you their commitment to serving "real food". Their refrain is "this is the food that I serve my family."

My favorite order here is the salad plate, which is a plate of sides. The rice is wonderful, a bit sweet, a bit sour (be sure to ask for no butter). All the sides at Pars Deli are vegetarian (no chicken stock or meat), but not all are vegan. Be sure to ask about yogurt and butter in whatever you order.

2. Breakfast at Bouldin Creek Coffee House. Bouldin Creek serves the best tofu scramble in Austin, no contest. It might even be the best in the world. I like my scramble in a breakfast taco, but the El Tipico is good, too.

3. A burger at Burger Tex. There are a few caveats here. The burger is frozen from a box. And there are animal heads on the wall at the location near me. But, they make their own buns fresh daily, and sometimes a girl just wants to eat a burger. There's just something about the combination of the burger and the bun that transcends the ordinary ingredients. It could have something to do with the barbecue sauce and jalapenos I add to mine.

4. Titayas Thai Cuisine. Pretty much anything here makes me happy. About 90% of the menu can be made vegan. But I have a special place in my heart for Panang Curry and Pad Thai. See, whenever my mother and I are in the same city, no matter the city, we always get together to split Pad Thai and Panang Curry. And both of these dishes are excellent at Titatyas.

5. Banzai Grill. There's no one dish that I turn to at Banzai Grill. Like Titayas, part of the charm is the luxury of choice. I also love how knowledgeable the staff is about all the ingredients. Dishes I've enjoyed include miso soup (no bonito!), vegetarian bento box, and cold soba noodles. They've recently added bubble tea to their menu, and most of the flavors are vegan. (Some day, somewhere, someone will make vegan taro bubble tea.)

6. Celeste's Best cupcakes at Hey Cupcake! Vegan cupcakes about a mile from my house. Wonderful and dangerous. Flavors vary day-to-day and often sell out before the end of the day. Celeste's vegan cupcakes are smaller than the default non-vegan cupcakes, but in these days of super sizing everything, I think that's a good thing.

7. Sunflower. A little Vietnamese restaurant in a strip shopping center, Sunflower is surprisingly delicious. Unlike most Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S., the menu doesn't feature bahn or pho (though they do have a small selection of, I assume non-vegan, pho). I've never seen most of the dishes on this menu anywhere else. My favorite so far is the lemongrass tofu, but really everything has been good. After your meal, sneak next door to the Hong Kong Market and grab a box of peanut- and walnut-flavored soy milk.

8. Chile relleno at El Mercado. A roasted poblano pepper stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, and rice (ask for no cheese). El Mercado is a short walk from where I live, so it's perfect on those nights when it doesn't look like dinner is going to happen. Most of the items on the vegetarian section of their menu can be made vegan. Just ask for no cheese or sour cream. Everything comes with guacamole, which is just icing on the chile relleno. Or something.

9. The vegetarian sandwich at the Little Deli. Now, usually I grumble when I'm reduced to eating a vegetable (or hummus) sandwich. It's the uninventive vegetarian item on every restaurant menu. Lazy. But Little Deli's sandwich goes above and beyond the usual tiny slice of avocado with sprouts. Besides avocado, there are artichoke hearts, roasted eggplant, onions, tomato, lettuce, and olive salad. All the vegetables are cut paper thin and come in a roll big enough to hold it all. Divine. I have never met a better vegetable sandwich. (Order sans cheese.)

10. Peanut butter soft serve at Toy Joy. Walking around Toy Joy is fun in and of itself. But walking around with a butterfinger milkshake (vanilla soft serve with chocolate and chik-o-stick) is, well, joyful.

It was hard to stick to ten. I didn't even mention Dog Almighty, Elsi's, Wheatsville, or Kerbey Lane.


Other Austin lists

Lazy Smurf's Guide to Life
Pulling It Together (in ten installments)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A shortcut for roasting garlic

I love the taste of roasted garlic, but I can't ever get it right. You're supposed to cut off the top of the garlic bulb, keeping all the cloves together, and then drizzle olive oil on top. But I can't ever get the cloves to stay together. And roasting garlic takes 45 minutes before you can even use it in the main part of the recipe.

So I cheat. Instead of roasting all the cloves together, I split them apart, removing the papery part of the garlic skin. Split apart, the cloves only take 20 minutes to roast.

To use them, just cut off the tops with kitchen scissors and squeeze out the insides.