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.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Light Duty

We're getting home a little bit late this evening, so I apologize in advance for a short post. A friend had us over for dinner this evening, which means I was on light duty this evening.

Remember that thing I said a couple of days ago about going with the tried and true when cooking for others? Unfortunately, your dear narrator probably needs to follow his own advice. I decided that since I was doing MoFo, I was invincible and could get away with anything, so I went out on limb and made a dip that I'd never made before. I'll spare you the details and say that it didn't come out as I'd hoped.

The meal on the other hand, was great. Our hosts made a great Pumpkin Saag with Green Onion Paratha, and Chocolate Raspberry Cookies for dessert. Delicious.

And I got to take a tour of someone else's kitchen. It was great to get a chance to see the space that someone else has to work in and just kind of picture how I'd work in that space. Since starting this month-long project, I've really thought a lot about what I could to to improve my productivity in the kitchen. You see, I tend to be a little bit geeky -- remember, you're talking to a software developer here -- from time to time when it comes to cooking.

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I keep a clipboard in the kitchen with paper and pencil on the counter top. If there's any complexity in the meal, meaning if I have to manage more than one thing cooking at a time, I'll get my clipboard out ahead of time and write a rough timeline for when I think things need to happen. 6:10pm: turn the oven on to 400 degrees to pre-heat for 20 mins, 6:15: start chopping vegetables, etc, etc.

If that's not geeky enough, I keep a second list of the actual times that I start or finish the tasks that need to be accomplished, just so I can make sure that things are moving along properly and so I can see where I misunderestimated things and improve my estimates in the future.

And since we've gone this far, I may as well just say it. I don't stock my clipboard with just any paper, it has to be graph paper, in case I want to, you know, do some trigonometry or something while waiting for my water to boil.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Continuing Tradition

In our household, the Wife and I have a few traditions. Every Thanksgiving we have a Vegan Orphans Dinner -- people from out of town without any family come over, on our anniversary, the Wife and I go to an apple orchard and pick apples, and on Sunday evenings, I make pizza for dinner. Well, okay, there's also the slightly less beloved Sunday tradition called Brandon-burns-the-hell-out-of-his-forearms-taking-the-damned-pizza-out-of-the-oven, but we won't talk about that.

A while ago, I decided that I needed to learn how to perfect the most important part of any pizza, thin, crunchy, cracker-like crust. Okay, if you thought I was going to say something different, you should stop reading this blog right now because I don't think you and I can agree on anything ever again.

Here's how to make a perfect cracker crust every time. Oh, and I learned this the hard way, but a pizza stone or some pizza stone-like implement is a requirement for making good crust. If thin, perfect crust is important to you (and you shouldn't still be reading this otherwise), you're going to need a stone.

Start with 1/2 cup warm water and add 2 tsp. yeast to it. Interesting note to those that have been asked "If you're vegan, how come you still eat yeast?" Yeast is not an animal, it's a fungi, like mushrooms, so argument over.

Anyways, put the yeast in the water and mix it up, then put that aside for 10 minutes. In another, larger, bowl, add 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour and 1 tsp salt. When 10 minutes are up, put 1 Tbsp olive oil in the water/yeast mixture, whisk for about 20 seconds, then dump the liquid into the bowl with the flour.

Stir with a fork until it starts to form into a ball, then knead that ball for 5 minutes. The dough will get a little sticky, but do not add more flour to the mixture. Just keep kneading until 5 minutes are up.

When you are done kneading, form the dough into a ball. Pour an additional 1 Tbsp of olive oil on the dough and roll the dough around until it's evenly coated with the oil. Cover the bowl you've used with plastic wrap and let the dough ball sit on the counter until it's doubled in size, about 1 hour.

In the meantime, you can begin preparing your toppings and, if you happen to be me, search around for some aloe vera lotion to soothe your soon-to-be blistered appendages. Tonight, I'm going to be a little bit lazy, I'm going to use some store-bought sauce. I'm going to use cheddar-style Daiya (it just seems a little thicker when it melts). I'm going to top that with seasoned artichoke hearts, some roasted peppers, and some Italian-style Field Roast links chopped and sautéd for a minute or so in olive oil.

When about 40 minutes is up, put your pizza stone in the oven and start to pre-heat to 500 Fahrenheit (or about 260 Celsius for all you normal people out there). When you're all warmed up, roll your crust to a good size pizza, about 16 inches (or about 40cm for all you normal... okay, it's not funny the second time, sorry).

Once you've got your crust rolled, here comes the really important part: put the crust in the oven (on your now toasty-hot pizza stone) for about 2 minutes. This will give the chance for some nice bubbles to form. When 2 minutes is up, pull the crust out of the oven, put your toppings on, and put the pizza back in the oven for about 8-10 more minutes, until it's browned, or blackened -- who am I to judge -- to your liking.

Now, this usually goes without saying, but when you take the pizza out of the oven, be careful. It can be a bit tricky to get such a round disc of awesomeness out of your oven. Once it is out, you may want to wait a minute or two for it to cool, but I can't blame you if you don't heed that warning.

Oh, and the best thing about tonight, no burns! Yay!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Friends Come Over for Appetizers

This evening we had a couple friends come over. After this week of cooking, our cupboards are in need of replenishing, so I sat down with some cookbooks and tried to decide what I was going to make for appetizers for 6 people. I waffled for a little while, then waffled some more. Finally, after wasting most of the afternoon, I noticed people were going to be coming over soon. Procrastination feels great until you realize that you've still got stuff to do and now you've only got a few minutes to get it done.

So with friends coming over in less than two hours, and empty cupboards, what did I manage to get together? A couple of things. For starters, I decided to go with something tried and true, and one of my all-time favorites: spring rolls with (and this is the best part) spicy peanut sauce. I think -- or maybe I just hope -- I heard half of you saying "Hell, yeah!"

Now, even in their most basic form, spring rolls are a work of art, but there's a place in town that makes the best spring rolls humanity has ever tried; Jasmine Deli (sorry, they don't appear to have a website). Rather than the predictable combination of rice noodles, bean sprouts, shredded carrots and mock duck in a rice wrapper, they really go all out and add cilantro, garlic, and a whole bunch of other great stuff.

For years, I've tried to emulate what they've got going on in my kitchen. While I don't think I've quite nailed their recipe, I have come up with a couple of my own things. I like my spring rolls with a little sautéd onion. Well, not just sautéd, but sautéd to the point where the edges are just starting to blacken. Also, I like to chop up some mock duck into small pieces, put it in a pan with some of the juices it was packed in, some tamari and minced garlic, and some flour (to thicken the sauce) and bake it for about 30mins, taking some time to stir it about halfway through.

With the spring rolls out of the way, I moved on to the real challenge for the evening, home made steamed dumplings [1]. I've made these one other time in the past (friends coming over is not the time to try something new, go with the tried and true) and I remember them being a lot more difficult that time around. They came together relatively quickly and were well worth the effort.

[1] Grogan, Bryanna. "Potstickers or Savory Steam-Fried Dumplings." Recipe. Authentic Chinese Cuisine for the Contemporary Kitchen. Summertown, Tennessee: Book Publishing Company, 2000. 69-71

Friday, November 5, 2010

More Than You Ever Wanted to Hear One Man Talk About BBQ Sauce.

Before I got going with last night's cooking, I was talking with a friend of mine about, what else, food. He happened to bring up two things that wedged themselves in that part of your brain that makes the "Mmmmmmmm" sound happen: potatoes and BBQ sauce.

It's Friday, it's been a long week blogging, so I gotta be honest, I'm not really in the mood to cook this evening. But dammit, potatoes and BBQ sauce. Mmmmmm. This evening is gonna be BBQ'ed seitan sandwiches and french fries.

One thing I learned a while ago was that different people have very different ideas about what a good BBQ sauce is. I'm from the Midwest, the home of the delicate palate, we make BBQ sauce that most the rest of the country would call ketchup. Other folks like their BBQ sauce sour, like lip-puckeringly so. Others like it spicy, and, well, I think you get the idea.

Rather than really trying to learn a good BBQ sauce recipe, I learned how to make kind of a proto-BBQ sauce. It's just kind of a rough sketch that hints at BBQ; you get to fill in the details with whatever you want depending on your mood that day.

I think this is the first recipe I'm going to share during the Month of Food, so this is your first opportunity to learn about what happens when a guy that doesn't follow recipes tries to make a recipe. So now you've been forwarned and we can continue.

For starters, you're going to need some onions. 1/2 a large onion will probably do you nicely. Chop those and a whole lot of garlic. We love garlic in this house so we tend to overdue it, but I don't think you can legally call it BBQ sauce if it doesn't have at least some garlic, so be sure that you put at least a clove in a sauce pan and sauté with some oil until it looks about right to you.

Next, you take one large can of crushed tomatoes, about 1/4 cup of molasses, and about 1/3 cup of vinegar and dump 'em in the sauce pan with some salt, to taste.

Next? Do whatever you're heart says is the right thing. You're probably going to need a pinch or two of sweetener. I've gotten good results with maple sugar, straight up maple syrup, or any kind of unbleached sugar. Beyond that, really, you should feel free to go wild. I've tried hot peppers (dried and fresh), nutritional yeast, lime juice, freshly ground black pepper; whatever sounds good can work.

Heat things up 'til it starts to simmer, then simmer the snot out of it. Here's the secret: the fact that it needs to simmer for a while gives you plenty of time to taste what you've got and adjust things as you go along. I try to let it simmer for as long as possible, but I usually cave after about an hour or so because it smells so good. If you like your BBQ sauce chunky, you're done. I like to put it in the food processor and smooth things out a bit.

So, what does the Wife think? Fresh BBQ sauce is easily better than anything you can buy at the store. It was a little on the thin side, consistency-wise, but it was definitely really good. Ooh, and there's more left for later? Great!

By the way, the recipe above is going to make a lot of sauce, so be sure to have some friends over to help you!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Great Chefs and Cheap Beer

I don't usually cook very complicated recipes. I generally like what I eat to be straight forward, bold, rib-stickin' goodness. Tonight I decided to try something a little different.

A while ago, while trolling through my favorite used bookstore, I came across a copy of Great Chefs Cook Vegan. Because the Wife collects vegan cookbooks and never passes up the chance to buy a cookbook she's not seen before, this one ended up in our cart. To be sure, I was intrigued by recipes like Avocado Cotton Candy and Warm Heirloom Tomatoes with Fava Beans and Crisp Squash Blossoms, but would I really ever make any of this stuff?

See, I do about 95 percent of the cooking around the house. It's a great buffer to let my mind switch gears from work-mode to home-mode, and it gives me a great chance to play with our cutlery (knife sharpening has quite inexplicably become obsession of mine recently). Until now, though, I'd never really thought to crack open this cookbook.

Honestly, if I were ever to be included in a cookbook, you certainly wouldn't be including "Great Chefs" in the title; certainly no one would by a cookbook that's just called "Cook Vegan," so now you know why I'm not exactly a household name. What I'm trying to say here is that anything that I would attempt from this cookbook would end up being a stretch for me. And in order to contemplate the possibilities that lay in such a cookbook I'd need beer. Cheap Beer.

After last night, I decided to honor the season a bit more. Though I'd never meant to diss on Autumn, tomatoes and bell peppers aren't exactly associated with post-Halloween foodstuffs, especially not in a climate that has, at least once in my life, had more than two feet of snow on the ground at this time of year. With that in mind, I decided I'd make Roast Vegetable Pot Pie [1], chock full of carrot-y, turnip-y, leek-y goodness.

And the Wife's review: Well, I have to start by saying that this is the first time that her and I have really not agreed on the outcome. She felt that, though she could see where the recipe was going, it was just not that great. She was impressed with the "healthiness" of it, but it only managed 2.5 out of 5 stars. And, to be fair, it was a pretty healthy recipe. I felt that the recipe was very well put together and it was the execution that was perhaps lacking. The fennel in the crust nicely complimented the savory vegetables that lay within. I'd have scored it a little higher.

[1] Thompson, Bradford. "Roast Vegetable Pot Pie." Recipe. Great Chefs Cook Vegan. Ed. Linda Long. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2008. 38-39

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cleaning Up

Wow. I spend a lot of time sitting on my couch during the day. I'm a software developer and I work from home. Yeah, waking up twelve seconds before you need to be to work is great, but it can get hard to put work down and transition back into real life when, a lot of the time, they seem to happen in the same room.

That, and I'm always amazed at how exhausting just thinking can be. Sometimes it feels like I've run a marathon when all I've really done is thought about what I'm going to do next.

How does this relate to cleaning up? Well, it doesn't really at all. Except that after a hard day's couch surfing, I'm exhausted. After cooking for the last couple of days, I've noticed that I have some leftover materials from the last couple of days. Honestly, I've got leftover materials from the last couple of months.

After looking through our near overflowing pantry and thinking for the 1,000th time "yeah, there's some stuff in here, but none of it can be used to make a meal," I decided to challenge myself a little bit. After taking an inventory of what was laying around the kitchen, I paged through a couple of my cookbooks and found a recipe that I could make with stuff just laying around.

I had a lot of leftover tomatoes and bell peppers from the night before. I'd also decided that it being November in a cold Northern climate and all wasn't going to stop me from making something distinctively summery. After some searching I came across the recipe for Polenta with Stewed Peppers and Tomatoes [1]. Perfect.

The result, according to the Wife: Ooh, anything with polenta is fancy (no, I'm not above scoring cheap points with the polenta, okay?). This is nice and reminds me of warm weather and vacation. It passes the restaurant test. Throw in some of the bread from last night and I think we've got a winner. Yay! Here's to using what you've got laying around.

[1] Klein, Donna. "Polenta with Stewed Peppers and Tomatoes." Recipe. The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen. New York, New York: The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2001. 132-133

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Busy, Busy Night

Whew, busy night tonight. I decided that I'm going to use this time to learn how to make bread over the next couple of weeks. On top of that, tonight's menu is tempeh stuffed bell peppers.... and it's election night, so listening to returns is important... and it's hockey night (yes, there are vegans that enjoy a good hockey game; dozens of us, in fact. Dozens!). For a little while I debated bringing two radios into the kitchen and listening to both, but I decided to try and keep my ADD secret (shhhhh!). On to the food.

I have to come clean, I am utterly unable to follow a recipe. Every time I read through something I'm making for the first time, I can't help but think to myself "Hey, that'd be better if I swapped out something and replaced it with something else." Plus, I have some secret ingredients -- no, I won't tell, that's why they're called "secret" -- that get added to nearly everything I make. This works great when you're, you know, cooking. Baking, however, is a totally different story. When baking bread, changing recipes and altering proportions is a surefire way to end up with an inedible, sorry, I have to, hockey puck.

So, in an effort to better my culinary skills and break fewer teeth, I've decided to take on bread baking. I recently picked up a cookbook called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" [1] on the recommendation of a friend. While not all the recipes are vegan, the book introduces a technique that will allow you to make artisan quality bread in your oven at home. I'll try to start from the beginning with the basic French Boule.

Goal!! Take that, Sharks!

The stuffed peppers come from "Vegan Soul Kitchen" [2], a cookbook that I just can't get enough of. I'm surprised I made it to day two without using a recipe from this book. It's all spicy, strongly flavored, and awesome. To make up for the simplicity of the bread, the peppers are a little more complex. Having to manage three different things cooking at a time makes for an extremely warm kitchen, especially when you have to keep the door shut lest the beagle in the other room decides to come have a sample.

So, three hours of hard fought cooking later, the right candidates doing well in the returns, and a shutout for the home team, we're ready to try it out.

The Wife's Reaction: Wow, this bread is good. It's got a great crust and the crumb (interior) is nice and moist. 4.5 out of 5 stars. Make more, please. Personally, I found it a little bit dense, but nothing letting it rise a little longer wouldn't fix.

As for the stuffed bell peppers, I'm not the biggest fan of tempeh because it has a really asstertive flavor. Though there's a lot of other flavors going on here, the tempeh kind of takes over. 3 of 5 stars.

[1] Hertzberg, Jeff and Francois, Zoe. "Master Recipe: Boule." Recipe. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. New York, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007. 24-30

[2] Terry, Bryant. "Tempeh-Stuffed Bell Peppers." Recipe. Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2009. 149-150

Monday, November 1, 2010

3, 2, 1... Dammit, Already?!?

So November seems to have snuck up on me. It's not that I don't cook almost every day, it's not that I don't blog (okay, you're right, I don't really blog), it's that I don't cook and then blog about it every day for a month. That's intimidating. That said, it's time to toughen up and get this thing rolling.

This Month, I'll be making 30 different things in 30 days, all as a part of the Vegan Month Of Food; I'll provide the food and the mindless banter, my wife, Dallas, will provide the photos and the feedback.

Today, I thought I'd get started with something basic: Spinach Lasagna. And you're probably already thinking what I was thinking when I decided on this. "Spinach Lasagna, how boring is this guy?" Well, there's a bit more to this lasagna.

One of my new favorite kitchen tools is my Imperia Pasta Press, which I've been practicing with for the last couple of months. For this lasagna, I made some fresh lasagna noodles [1] with a twist. I pressed the pasta extra thin, put some fresh basil leaves and chopped roasted red peppers between two noodles, then re-pressed the basil/pepper sanwiches until I got pasta with visible basil in the middle. They're a little misshapen when they come out of the press but they're simple enough to cut down to size when arranging things in the pan.

When making the sauce [2], I decided that I'd like to kick things up a bit. I found some nice dried hot peppers and chopped them up to add. Also, I find just using plain old salt a little boring, I used a bit of veggie broth instead and simmered longer to let the extra moisture out.

For cheese, I used Diaya because, well, it's awesome.

So, After layering the lasagna with the above ingredients, some steamed spinach with a little olive oil added and then baking for a while, here's what we end up with...

... and the Wife's reaction: 4 stars out of 5. The pasta is firm and tasty, but the cheese could use some crumbled tofu or something to give a bit more texture in my mouth. If I ordered lasagna in a restaurant and got this, I'd be happy with what I got.

[1] Grogan, Bryanna. "Vegan Homemade Pasta." Recipe. Nonna's Italian Kitchen: Delicious Home-Style Vegan Cuisine. Summertown, Tennessee: Book Publishing Company, 1998. 77-78

[2] Moskowitz, Isa and Romero, Hope. "Marinara Sauce and Variations." Recipe. Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook. New York, New York: Marlowe & Company, 2007. 206-206