Saturday, November 20, 2010

An Experiment

As you may or may not have noticed, I've been a little, ummm, absent for the past couple of days. In all honesty, I think I'm gonna have to scale this project back a bit. For some reason, it's no problem to cook every night, but cooking and then writing about it every night has gotten a little overwhelming. Going forward, I'm going to shoot for about three or four updates a week.

A few days ago, I was talking with a friend/co-worker of mine about this project. As I've mentioned in the past, I work from home. As a result, my co-workers are spread far and wide. My friend lives up in Canada near Ottawa. In the years that we've worked together, we've spent a lot of time talking about all kinds of stuff, both work-related and not. We've given each other civics lessons, he got me hooked on hockey (I'm one of the few Minnesotans that probably couldn't even stand up on ice skates, much less whack around a frozen piece of rubber with a stick while skating backwards).

So we were talking a little about MoFo, and the subject of Canadian cuisine came up. Honestly, it's something I knew very little about. Other than poutine, there wasn't any other thing I could name. He mentioned Tourtiére, which I'd never heard of. After a little bit more discussion (and a long taunting about how his fantasy hockey team was much better than mine) he agreed to give me his recipe if I agreed to make a vegan version of it... today I gave it a try.

Here's what I came up with:

Getting Started: Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes are used in both the crust and in the filling for this recipe, the need to be fully cooled for the crust, so get this out of the way a couple hours before you really get started.
  • 3 Medium Potatoes roughly chopped
  • 2 Whole Cloves Garlic (because Mashed Potatoes without garlic is wrong)
  • 1 Tbsp dairy-free Margarine
  • 1/4 Cup Plain Soy Milk
I have strong opinions on a lot of food-related things, but it's hard to go wrong with mashed potatoes. If you're feeling up to it, peel the skins off the potatoes. I am a lazy man, so I left the skins on.

Boil some water in a pot, toss in the potatoes and garlic and boil for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Drain. Put the potatoes/garlic in a medium-sized bowl and mash with the Margarine and Soy Milk and mash until mashed.

Put a lid on the container and put the potatoes in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to cool completely.

The Crust

Mmmmm, the crust. The best part of anything. I've never been very good with crust, but damn do I love it.
  • 1 1/2 Cup Unbleached White Pastry Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/2 Cup chilled dairy-free Margarine, cubed
  • 1 Cup cold Mashed Potatoes
  • 1/4 Cup Plain Soy Milk
Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together for about 20 seconds. Drop the cubed Margarine and fold in with a pastry blender. Go until the bits of margarine are about the size of a small pea. Next, add the Mashed Potatoes and mix. Add the Soy Milk slowly while mixing. The dough is going to be pretty loose, but you don't want it to get too sticky, and you don't want to over-mix. When it's about the consistency you want, roll it into a ball in the bowl, cover, and put it in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.

The Filling, Part One

At this point, it's a good idea to start pre-heating your oven to 450 degrees F.
  • 24 oz Soy Crumbles, I used Boca crumbles
  • 1 1/2 Cups diced Onion, about 2 small-medium onions
  • 1 stalk Celery, diced
  • 2 (or more) cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 Apple, diced, I used a Breaburn
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
Long story short: put all this stuff in a big pan and sauté until it's done, about 10 minutes. Put it in a bowl and put aside.

The Filling, Part Two

  • 1 cup Sliced Crimini Mushrooms (buy extra so you can eat them while cooking)
  • 1 Tbsp Dairy-free Margarine
  • 1/4 tsp Tamari or Soy Sauce
  • 1 pinch Nutritional Yeast
Sauté the Mushrooms with the Margarine until they begin to sweat. At that point, add the Tamari and Nutritional Yeast, continue to sauté until all the moisture has evaporated away. When done, add this to the bowl of filling from part one.

The Filling, Fin

  • 1 Cup chilled Mashed Potatoes
  • 2 tsp White Wine Vinegar
  • 1 tsp ground Nutmeg (tip: don't be an idiot like me, buy it ground)
  • 1/2 tsp ground Cloves (ditto)
  • 1/2 tsp ground Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ground Black Pepper
Add this to the bowl of filling you've been accumulation and mix until things look, you know, mixed.

Now, your dough has been chilling for 30 minutes and your oven is getting nice and warm. On a floured surface, roll half of the dough out until it's big enough for a nine inch pie pan. Line the pastry in, you guessed it, an oiled nine inch pie pan. Press the filling from above into the pie pan. Roll out the second sheet and cover the filling with it. Brush a little bit of Soy Milk onto the top and cut some small holes in the crust.

Next, put the pie in the oven for 10 minutes at 450 degrees F. When the time is up, without removing the pie, lower the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 45 minutes longer.

While the pie is baking, if you're anything like me, your kitchen will be destroyed. I was thinking about making some sort of Swedish Chef joke here, but there's a point when comedy comes too close to real life and just isn't funny anymore. Now's a good time to start cleaning up.

The Wife's reaction: This crust is really good. You should remember how to make that for future recipes. The filling is good, it's not quite what I expected, though. If I were to order it in a restaurant, I'd be glad I did, but I don't know that I'd order it very often.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shameless Ripoff

During Vegan MoFo, I've been following a couple of different blogs. Many have theme weeks. One headline that popped up in my reader was Stunt Food week at Down Home Vegan. Could it be?!? people doing crazy stunts while cooking?!? I was definitely intrigued. After taking a closer look, though, things were not quite as I expected. Don't get me wrong, the idea is great and makes for a fun read and a growly tummy, but it's just not dangerous enough.

So, in honor of what I thought Stunt Food may have meant, I present to you, for one day and one day only, the Frozen Vegan version of Stunt Food. Is your food dangerous enough? (TM) Why just stir when you can stir while balancing a spoon with your other hand?!?

We're penguins in this house. We like to keep it really cool when the weather gets cold. We've got plenty of long-sleeved shirts, so why not put another one on?

Things work just great once you get used to it being a little cooler in the house. The thing that a lot of folks don't get is that it's not winter all the time in Minnesota. We actually get quite hot and humid in the summer. On an average year, we'll hit 100 degrees F a couple of times in the summer. That can be a bit of a rough transition.

Wait, I think I hear a few of you snickering back there. Something about balancing a spoon in your hand not being dangerous at all? That my Stunt Food is a joke and I the original idea is a lot better? I'm just a shameless ripoff? Why just stir when you can stir while balancing a spoon in your other hand and balancing a chainsaw on your foot while crossing Niagra Falls on a tightrope? 'Nuff said.

Now that we're all settled here, back to the story.

When it starts to cool off pretty seriously, it's a great time to fire up the stove. I've been looking into some potato-based bread/crust for something I'm planning later in the month, so I can warm up the house and make it smell great. I decided to go with Potato and Potato Spinach Knishes [1]. The main reason behind this course of action? The fact that we get to slather them with mustard.

The Wife's reaction: Whoa, this is one of the best things that we've had so far. The crust looks beautiful. It's very filling and having some piping hot potatoes after feeling cold all day is just what I needed.

[1] Moskowitz, Isa. "Knish Madness: Three Kinds of Knishes -- Sweet Potato, Potato, and Spinach Potato". Recipe. Vegan With A Vengence. New York, New York: Marlowe & Company, 2005. 76.

An Argument Against Building Your Own Bike

I had this all written up and ready to go, then got distracted by a silly game and completely forgot to click the publish button. After a quick read through and a couple of revisions, here's last night's post.

Last night, I just didn't want to cook. I just didn't. The thought of ordering takeout and bringing it home sounded really good. By the time that I'd strengthened my resolve and decided to get my ass into the kitchen and get something done, it was getting a little late to go shopping. The Wife had the car for the evening and I didn't want to take my bike out.

It's not that I'm lazy, though I am definitely that. See, I love riding bikes around. I went for 12 years without owning a car and I hate taking the bus, so bike riding became my preferred mode of transportation. Be it in 100 degree F. heat, torrential rains or blizzards, you'd find me on my bike weaving through traffic.

Then I decided to build my own bike from parts. Not just like get and old junker and adjust the brakes or something; I'm talking like sitting down and spoking wheels and cutting the tubes for my headset. After all that work, I have a bike that is perfect for me in every way and something I have to show off to everyone who comes to my house and says the word "bike." But I'm afraid to ride the damned thing. Oh, it rained out three days ago? I better not take my bike, there might still be a puddle somewhere in the city.

Anyways, back to food. It was getting late and I didn't want to go out, so I decided to work with what we had at home. If it's the day after you've gone our for groceries or something, that's usually not so bad, but the cupboards here were bare, to say the least. After digging around in our 3/4 empty bins of flours and beans, like a bright yellow beacon guiding ships home, I came across a sadly neglected stash of yellow split peas. The result: a really basic split pea soup.

The Wife's review: Given what we had laying around the house, this came out really well, the cat is even interested in it. It would have been extremely good if you'd have puréed the soup (to which I began to build a case for why I need to get an inversion blender immediately).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Three For One

After my last post, I've decided that I need to start a search. A search for a vegan who likes eggplant. Because as of now, I am completely convinced that no such thing exists; it's all a vast plot perpetrated by some eggplant-industrial complex to replace the potato as the most popular vegetable or destroy the world trying.

Anyways, you may have noticed that I took a couple of days off. Having to shovel snow will do that do a person. That or having a very late Friday night followed by a Saturday that was full of surprises (and not shoveling snow). Apologies for not being little more timely with the updates; I've used my Mulligan(s) and it won't happen again.

On Friday, the Wife and I had plans that involved going to a friend's house for gathering. I didn't have a heck of a lot of time between work and when we needed to be there, so I went for something tried and true (and pretty darned simple), mac and cheese. Due to a couple requests for the kinda-recipe, or semi-recipe, or whatever you'd like to call it, here goes.

Wait, before I get going with that, I need to have a(nother) quick digression about secret ingredients. Yes, this recipe contains one, but I feel I need to impart a little secret ingredient wisdom.

Secret ingredients are mystical things that are used to make the food your eating even more awesome. Everyone who spends any time in the kitchen should have at least three secret ingredients that they use. However, no two people are allowed to have the same secret ingredients. If this happens, by my reckoning, those two must throw down and have a cook-off on the spot with whatever ingredients are available on hand. The winner is decided based on crowd response. Two cooks enter; one cook leaves.

Okay, so in real life, I just may have watched a Mad Max movie over the weekend. Yay, I've managed to invent post-apocalyptic cooking.

What is a secret ingredient, you may ask? Simple. It's an ingredient that you should always try to put into whatever your making unless you can think of a good reason not to.

Back to the main part of this sorta story, here's the recipe.

First Half:

1/2 pound macaroni, prepared as instructed on the package

Okay, I meant the first half of the name.

The Cheese:

1 package Diaya cheese
2 spoonfuls Veganaise
2 cloves garlic, minced
Nutritional Yeast
Plain Soy Milk or Veggie Broth

Before you get going here, start warming up the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the Diaya, Veganaise, and garlic in a sauce pan and warm it up. Diaya in this form is a bit of a pain in the ass to work with because it just kinda turns into a sludgy ball, so this is where the Nutritional Yeast and Soy Milk/Broth come in. Start slowly adding the two in equal proportions until things have thinned out a little bit. Don't let it thin out too much, or you'll end up with liquid gross.

Once you've got your sauce to a consistency that looks relatively appetizing, dump the cooked macaroni into the same saucepan and mix it all up. When you're done, put it in a pan, mine fit in a 9" x 9" pan. If you've got some bread crumbs, sprinkle 'em on top -- the same goes for paprika -- and bake for 30 minutes. If you're obsessive like me, you'll want to turn on the little light in the oven because you'll be checking in on things every 43 seconds or so.

If you're running right over to your friend's house remember to 1) bring extra hot pads so you don't burn anything in your car, and 2) look up the directions before you leave your house because it's hard to do so with your GPS while holding the mac and cheese with those extra hot pads.

Oh yeah, the other rule about secret ingredients: while it's okay to tell people that you're using 'em, it's never okay to say what specifically the secret ingredient is.

So that was Friday. Now on to Saturday. Well, let's not talk about Saturday.

This evening, I decided I wanted something a little spicy. I'd come across a recipe for a Thai-Style Butternut Squash Soup that was pretty close to what I was looking for. With a few minor alterations, I thought it would fit the bill nicely.

The Wife's reaction: Wow, this is pretty good. It's quite spicy. I wouldn't think that squash and Thai-style spices would go well together, but they really do. The peanuts (freshly roasted, I might add) are also great. If you served it with some bread or something, it would be great appetizer at a restaurant.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

You Learn Something New Every Day

The Wife likes Baba Ghanoush as well as Bhurta made with eggplant. So me, being a reasonable guy, concluded that she liked eggplant. Me, not so much. But hey, I cook for more than just myself, so it's my job to bite the bullet and make something that's not my favorite food in order to help keep my sweetie happy, right?

This evening, I sharpened my knives and with nose crinkled and eyes kinda squinty, I dutifully chopped up a small eggplant and prepped it so as to remove all the bitterness. I glanced over at the other ingredients I would be cooking with and in my head I apologized to each of them for even making them spend time in the same grocery bag, let alone be prepared in the same meal as eggplant. You're getting the impression that I don't like eggplant, right; that only true love would drive a man in my situation to do what he's about to do? Good, good, good. Then I think I've properly set the mood.

The Wife's reaction: Mmm, this smells good, but why did you use eggplant? I didn't think you liked it. The tomatoes are delicious and the garlic is perfect in this dish, but neither of us really likes eggplant.

Well, at the very least, that's one sacrifice I don't ever have to make again.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Toaster Oven To The Rescue

What do you do when you've only got about an hour to make something happen for dinner, like less than the time it'd take you to preheat your oven? What do you do when you don't have enough time to freeze and thaw some tofu to get the chewy texture you're after? This, my friends, is where your toaster oven comes in.

On Wednesday evenings, the Wife works late and often ends her day with a meeting of indeterminate time. While I can often start prepping things ahead of time, I often only have a little while to do the actual cooking before she gets home. My options are pretty limited: either cook ahead of time and risk things being cold when she gets home, or cook fast.

This is where the toaster oven comes in. It heats up quick and is a great means for making some kick ass tofu. Just turn it to about 400 degrees F, dip your tofu in a marinade of equal parts oil and tamari, sprinkle with some minced garlic, and bake for about 30-40 minutes. Simple, flavorful, chewy, awesomeness.

This evening, I was able to whip together a spicy stir fry using some left over ingredients from the past few days.

The Wife's review: Wow, I'd pay a restaurant good money for this. The vegetables are nice and warm but still maintain their crunch, and the tofu is great. On top of that, it just looks really pretty. Yum.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Nice Warm Simmering Pot

I woke up really cold this morning. Cold and just kind of blah. For some reason, this change from Daylight Savings Time has been kicking my ass this year. Blah, indeed.

I resolved upon getting up and out of bed that I was going to want to spend some time in the kitchen around a nice warm simmering pot. After last night's Saag, I also needed to have some more greens.

You may not know this (my attempt at humor for the night coming up...) but Minnesota is not exactly known for being tropical. Around this time of year everything gets kind of start to die off and get, well, brown and boring. In a month or so it'll all be white. While I do love winter -- the idea of curling up under a blanket on a cold day with a couple of dogs and a good history or programming book sounds like a little slice of heaven -- it's often not all that fun to look at.

So in addition to simmering and greens, we're going to need to add a little bit of color. Luckily, the greens, in addition to their deliciousness, will help us do just that. In addition, I decided to toss in some tomatoes and some white beans and, as they say, we've got a stew going on. I just wanted to go for something basic and filling.

The Wife's review: This is very earthy and straightforward. There weren't a lot of seasonings in it, which let the flavors of the main ingredients really shine through. A good thing to have after a long day's work.