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.

Squash seeds and Vegan MoFo

Welcome to October everyone! It's getting to be fall. And one of the best parts of fall is roasting squash seeds. Everyone loves a snack that's salty, crunchy, healthy, easy to make, and practically free.

I have wonderful memories of carving a Halloween pumpkin with my mom and my brother. We crunched on the salty pumpkin seeds while arguing about how to make the scariest jack-o-lantern.

"Pumpkin" seeds don't just come from pumpkins, though. The seeds of any winter squash can be roasted. You know those boxes of processed foods that say "20% more free!"? Well this is the real 20% more free! For just a tiny bit more work, you get a second dish from your winter squash. It's even better if you're roasting the squash because you already have the oven on.

Here's the loose recipe I used growing up. You can change the oven temperature if you have something else cooking that needs a higher temperature. Just expect the seeds to brown a bit faster.

Roasted Squash Seeds

Separate the seeds from the pulp of the squash. Don't worry if tiny bits of pulp stick to the seeds. Just be sure to remove the larger pieces. Throw the pumpkin seeds in a baking dish with sides. Drizzle a small amount of oil over the seeds. (We always used canola, but olive oil would work fine.) Sprinkle the seeds with kosher salt. (Kosher salt is extra crunchy.) Bake the seeds in a 200 degree oven until browned. This will take about 20 minutes, but keep an eye on the oven. The seeds can go from browned to burnt really quickly.

Reason number two why October is going to be a great month: Vegan MoFo III! Vegan MoFo is the Vegan Month of Foods. For the month of October, bloggers all over the world who are interested in vegan food have pledged to post, post, post. Over 300 bloggers will flood the Internet with blog posts showing glimpses of their food worlds, from tonight's dinner to inspiring new food ideas.