*Well, it’s not really “bourguignon.” But it isACD friendly, sugar free, gluten free, and vegan. And it tastes delicious. What more could you ask for?
I will never forget the first lecture I attended as a callow undergraduate at the University of Windsor: it was Modern American Drama, with a professor named Dr. John Ditksy. In his early forties, Dr. Ditsky appeared to be the quintessential “absent-minded professor,” with a demeanor like Columbo, a wit like Woody Allen, and a face like Jason Schwartzman. True to appearances, the man was brilliant. I discovered later that he was one of the foremost Steinbeck critics in the world and had published hundreds of academic papers.
His lecture was peppered with words I’d never even heard before (I scribbled furiously in the margins of my notebook so I could look them up later: “adumbrate,” “hyperbole,” “interstices” –as the hour went on, I felt less and less equipped for university), and every female student in the class developed a crush on him. Of course, I immediately joined that coterie.
I carried my crush around with me wherever I went that year, like a thermos tucked under my arm; on the outside, cool, smooth and unassuming; on the inside, steamy hot. The only person who knew of my amorous infatuation was my buddy Michelle, who was as outgoing as I was shy and introverted. Michelle never had a problem striding over to Dr. Ditsky at the end of each class, joking with him or posing obvious questions just to hear his witty response; she even tapped him on the arm a few times as she spoke (my cheeks flushed red just watching her).
One day, as a few students milled about the hall outside the classroom waiting for the lecture to begin, Dr. Ditsky approached Michelle and me. Immediately, Michelle launched into some lively chatter, asking our prof how he had spent the previous weekend; she possessed none of the typical student’s reserve when it came to posing personal questions of authority figures. Ditsky muttered something innocuous and returned the question.
“Oh, pretty good,” she responded. ”I went to a party with my boyfriend and some of his friends. You know, boring boys.” (She rolled her eyes at the last word).
He turned to me. “Did you go, too, Heller?” I could feel my face heat up, and shook my head. (Most likely, I had spent the majority of the weekend in residence or the library).
Suddenly, Michelle had an idea. ”You know, I think Heller here needs a boyfriend,” she piped up. “But not one of the guys from university. I mean, the guys here are all so childish. She needs someone older, more mature.” She stared meaningfully at him, nodding her head as if to impress upon him the gravity of the statement.
To his credit, Ditsky didn’t flinch. Without even cracking a smile, he responded, “Well, you know, you may have to wait a while for that. For most guys it usually takes until their forties before they even start acting mature.”
I wanted to cram myself under one of the classroom desks, or slink behind the water fountain and melt away like the Wicked Witch of the West when she was doused with water. But then–something magical happened.
“You know, a few colleagues and I are having lunch** today at the DH Tavern after class,” Ditsky went on. Why don’t you two ladies join us?” I had heard about the legendary “lunches” at the DH, where profs and a few select students engaged in hours-long discussions about literature, philosophy, culture and life, all punctuated by pub fare and too many beers to count.
Well, that initial lunch evolved into a 28-year friendship, until my beloved mentor passed away in 2006. And from that very first meal, he treated me as if I were already a colleague and intellectual equal despite my lack of experience or erudition. After a couple of years of lunches at the DH, I was fortunate enough to be invited to join a group of students who were asked to spend a weekend at Ditsky’s home.
Before that time, all I knew about Mrs. Ditsky was (a) she’d been married to my crush since they were both teens, and (b) he always (always) stopped to buy her flowers after our pub lunches, before heading to the Ambassador Bridge on his way home. The moment I stepped out of the car in Detroit , Mrs. D greeted me with a warm hug and led me by the hand up to the guest room where I’d be staying. The bed, topped with a pale blue down comforter and several plumped pillows, was surrounded by antique bookcases filled with novels and other works of famous American authors–all signed by the authors.
“I hope you’ll be comfortable here,” she said as she placed my bag on the floor. “I thought you’d like to have the company of the writers you’ve been studying.” How could you not love such a woman as much as her husband?
It was during that initial weekend when I first tasted beef bourguignon. At the time, I had no idea that this French beef stew had been popularized by Julia Child, nor that it even contained wine. All I knew was that I was served a rich, robust beef stew with tender chunks of meat, with a thick, buttery sauce that perfectly complemented the slippery noodles on which it rested. I requested the recipe, fully expecting that Mrs. D wouldn’t reveal her secret.
A few weeks later, I received a photocopy in the mail with a handwritten note detailing any changes she’d made (3 cloves of garlic instead of the one in the recipe; more onions; and the need for an electric knife to cut the meat into bite-sized chunks, though I never did use one). She closed with, “You’re missed by both of us. Guest room is yours anytime you want. Hugs–Love, S &J.” And with that, my girlish crush evaporated, and I gained not one, but two lifelong friends.
For years afterward, whenever I wanted to “wow” someone (read: a date) with a great homecooked meal, I made that beef bourguignon. When I changed my diet back in 1999, the recipe was slipped into a file folder with other clippings and more or less forgotten. Last week, it suddenly came back to mind.
Gemini I, her husband, and PR Queen and her husband were coming over for dinner. I knew the Geminis love beef; PR Queen, a vegan like me, mentioned that her husband won’t even consider eating a vegetarian meal. As a result, the evening featured two parallel stews: beef bourguignon for them, and tempeh “bourguignon” for me and PR Queen. And I daresay, PR Queen and I got the better deal.
In order to render the stew ACD friendly, I knew I’d have to eliminate the wine (*stifled sob*). But what could I use in its stead? The obvious choice was vegetable broth, and of course I included it. But what about the tart, tannic depth of the burgundy? I was rummaging through the fridge when I spied it–my bottle of (unsweetened) cranberry juice. Eureka!
Believe it or not, I think the juice is what made this dish so toothsome. Tempered with a few drops of stevia, the sourness of the cranberries dissipates into the savory, sanguine broth. Redolent with parsley, thyme, marjoram and bay leaves, the stew was a perfect dish for an evening with good friends, old and new. It brought to mind that other one, long ago, shared with my mentor and his dear wife. Next time I speak to Mrs. D, I’ll be sure to offer her the recipe.
**let’s face it, ”having lunch” is a misnomer. “Getting sauced” is probably more accurate.
Tempeh “Bourguignon” with Garlic Mashed Potatoes (ACD Stage 2 and Beyond)
The original recipe asks for a bouquet garni, and you can certainly make your own. I find that adding the dried herbs and spices directly to the sauce works just as well in this case, as they meld beautifully as the stew simmers.
2 packages (about 1.5 pounds or 700 g) tempeh (I used soy-only)
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp (15 ml) each dried parsley and chives
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) dried thyme
1/4 tsp (1 ml) dried marjoram
2 dried bay leaves
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) celery seeds
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) ground cloves
freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp (1 ml) salt, or more, to taste
1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth or stock
1/2 cup (120 ml) unsweetened cranberry juice
5-10 drops unflavored stevia liquid, to taste
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tapioca or arrowroot starch, if needed
Cut the tempeh into bite-sized pieces. Mix 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of the olive oil and Bragg’s in the bottom of a nonreactive (glass or ceramic) square pan, and toss the tempeh to coat evenly. Allow to marinate at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Bake the tempeh until the marinade is absorbed and the pieces are beginning to brown, 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool while you prepare the base.
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil over medium heat and add the onion, leeks, and carrot. Sauté until the vegetables are softened but not brown, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley and chives and cook another 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except for tempeh and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add tempeh, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the vegetables are beginning to dissolve into the sauce. If necessary, add the starch by mixing it in a small bowl with 2-3 Tbsp (30-45 ml) of the sauce first, then returning the mixture to the pot and stirring well.
To serve, spoon over cooked noodles, rice, or mashed potatoes. Makes 4 servings. May be frozen.
*Or, ACD-Friendly Fast Food. Or, Intercultural Lasagna. Or, What to Do with those Nearly-Stale Nacho Chips.
Even though these days it takes me almost 15 minutes before I can stand up fully erect after first rolling out of bed (in which I sleep on my back, with 2 pillows under my knees so my spine can retain its proper curvature) in the morning; even though driving at night has become more and more an exercise in blinking and squinting than a convenient means to return home after a dinner out; even though I sometimes do a double take when walking by a mirror after thinking, “What the heck is my mother doing in there??”; even though my students perceive me more as a Nanny McPhee than a Sheba Hart–even though all these things are true, I still can’t help but feel as if, internally, I’m the same person I was in my 20s.
Getting older can really be a shock to the system, let me tell you. One of my class projects in nutrition school was to assess how sensory perception changes over time. Boy, was that ever a wakeup call! (Then again, it would have to be a much louder wakeup call if I were in my 80s). You see, for every year you age past, oh, about 18, each of your five senses diminishes. And the older you get, the more quickly and more dramatically they do so. (Are you depressed yet? Don’t worry, you will be–that’s more common when you’re older, too).
So, while we all may realize that sight and hearing fade with age (a 70 year old needs three times the light of a 20 year-old to see accurately–no wonder septuagenarians shouldn’t be driving!), most of us don’t really think about how our sense of taste diminishes as we grow older.
Well, the HH and I must be bordering on superannuation. (Okay, actually, it’s just the HH, but I didn’t want to make him to feel bad. That is, if he can still feel anything at his age).
I’ve noticed lately that the HH has started pronouncing my cooking ”not spicy enough” or “too bland” or “not flavorful enough” even when it seems fine to me (or is something that isn’t supposed to be spicy, like mock tuna or stroganoff. A recent exception was the vegan pasta carbonara, which he scarfed down anyway). Could it be that his taste buds are feeling a little exhausted after 50+ years of operation? Not sure. But I do know that what we eat has become more and more piquant over the years.
True, I’ve always enjoyed spicy eats, but my tolerance–and desire–for ramping up the heat has definitely increased of late. I’ll never forget a dinner party to which I was invited by my office mate when I first began teaching at the college; she had just come back from seven years living in Mexico and promised us an authentic feast.
While the rest of us guzzled cold drinks between tiny nibbles of fiery-hot mole appetizers, our hostess calmly plucked an entire jalapeno from a plate and, hoisting it by the stem, popped it in her mouth. Then she continued to relay her anecdote while chewing contemplatively, never even breaking a sweat. I was truly amazed by her seemingly asbestos-lined palate at the time; little did I know I’d be eating whole jalapenos myself (at least I stuff mine with goat “cheese” first) two decades later.
One evening last week, I had dinner plans with friends and wanted to leave something for the HH to enjoy at home. After viewing at least a dozen enchiladacasseroles on otherblogs as a result of the Daring Cooks event last month (plus Celine’s Mucho Macho Nachos and Angela’s Time Crunch Vegan Enchiladas) I was craving Mexican food. We had all the ingredients on hand, so I thought I would whip up some of the HH’s favorite nachos. Of course, I knew that jalapenos were non-negotiable. Not to mention super-spicy salsa (arriba!). Plus, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to make just a single platter versus the two we usually make: his, with ground beef and melted cheese; mine, with crumbled tempeh or tofu and cheesy sauce.
I grabbed all the ingredients and began prepping. Only one problem: the already-opened bag of nacho chips had been sitting too long, and the chips had lost their snap, bordering on stale. What to do?
Of course, I could have thrown them away. But that would have traumatized my inner frugalista. I could have given them to The Girls with their supper (“We vote for that choice, Mum!”), but that wouldn’t help with my dinner needs. What if I simply tossed all the ingredients into a casserole dish, and let them bake up? I envisioned a super quick, nacho-meets-enchilada dish. And so, the new, fast-food, ACD-friendly, Mexican nacholada casserole was born.
I mixed everything up and left it on the counter with a simple note:
Here’s a casserole for dinner. Heat at 350 for about 25 minutes, then take as much as you’d like. Have fun with The Girls!
xoxoxoxo kiss kiss kiss
Upon my return that night, I casually inquired, “Um, so how was the casserole?”
It’s true, the dish was so fiery hot it may have finally triggered the HH’s antiquated taste buds (in fact, you may wish to tone down the jalapeno screaming a few decibels in your own dish). True, I didn’t disclose in advance that this casserole was simply a new, unfamiliar twist on his oft-rejected vegan nachos. True, the HH was on his own that night, and would probably prefer to eat rose petals dipped in sand than have to whip up something of his own. Whatever the reason, the dish was a huge hit.
“That stuff was delicious!” he exclaimed. ”I loved it. You can definitely make that again.” (Hee hee). Even after I revealed that it contained tempeh and cheesy sauce, he was still enthusiastic. “Well, I don’t know why, but this time it tasted great,” he insisted (of course he forgot there hadn’t been a “last time,” since he’s always refused to try it in the past). Triumph!
I’m hoping this is the end of separate nacho platters from now on in the DDD household.
As is so often the case, the HH’s initial skepticism was overruled by the transformative deliciousness of my plant-based meal. And luckily, despite his natural penchant for meat, he’s happy to embrace a vegan meal “if it tastes good.” I guess that’s just one more reason why I’ve decided to stick around as we grow old(er) together.
* No, I didn’t really write, “HH” or “Ricki” on my note–I used our usual pet names for each other. But the HH would never speak to me again if I published them on the blog!
Layered Mexican Casserole
I call this “fast food” because it’s one of the few dishes I don’t make entirely from scratch. Jarred salsa is fine on the ACD if you find an organic brand with no added sweetener, vinegar, or other taboo ingredients. This casserole is a great way to use up less-than-fresh nacho chips (the chips absorb the moisture from salsa and cheese to become soft inside and crunchy on the edges of the casserole dish), but if your chips still crispy, feel free to assemble these ingredients in regular nacho fashion.
About 4 cups (1 L) nacho chips (or enough for 2 layers of overlapping chips in a 10-inch/25 cm casserole dish)–I used tri-color ones by Que Pasa
1 jar (about 2 cups/500 ml) medium or hot salsa of your choice (I used Neal Brothers)
** For ACD Stage I, use brazil nuts or macadamia nuts instead of cashews; use 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) powdered mustard.
Quick tempeh crumbles: In a large sauce pan, crumble one package (12 ounces or 350 g) tempeh. Add 1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth or stock; 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) Braggs liquid aminos, tamari or soy sauce; 5-10 drops liquid smoke or 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) smoked paprika; and 2-5 drops liquid stevia. Bring to boil over medium heat, then cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed and the tempeh just begins to brown. Use in this casserole, in pasta sauces, sprinkled on salads, or in sandwiches.
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Spray a 10-inch (25 cm) casserole dish with nonstick spray or lightly grease with oil.
Place a single layer of nacho chips in the bottom of the casserole dish, taking care to overlap so that little, if any, of the bottom of the dish is visible. Dollop about half the salsa randomly over the chips. Sprinkle with half each of the tempeh, beans, red or green pepper, jalapeno and olives; then drizzle half the cheese sauce over all. For the top layer, repeat the process, setting aside the peppers and olives; once the cheese sauce has been added, sprinkle the top with peppers and olives.
Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until the casserole is hot throughout and the top of the cheese begins to brown slightly. Remove from oven and allow to sit 10 minutes before scooping out onto plates. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if desired. Makes 4-6 large servings. May be frozen.
One of the most common traits exhibited by Libras is, supposedly, “indecisiveness.” As a Libra myself, I don’t really mind that description. Well, maybe a little. But not really–it’s all in good humor, right? Then again, who likes to be called “indecisive”? Am I offended?! Yes. No. Definitely. . . . maybe.
Represented by the scales, Libras often vacillate between extremes. In my case, I tend to swing between wildly opposing behaviors: holiday sugar-binges eating chocolate fudge, chocolate cookies, chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, or just plain chocolate**, later balanced by the most ascetic of diets, the ACD, followed religiously for months, until homeostasis is achieved once again.
Similarly, I may one day vow to keep my desk immaculately clean, then allow the notes and bills and post-its to accumulate in irregular stacks like fallen autumn foliage on a forest floor; finally, in a fit of tidiness, I’ll organize the entire thing in one afternoon, filing each and every snippet of paper or invoice in its proper place, only so the cycle can begin again. Or I’ll work like a lunatic at some writing project (hmm, say, like a cookbook), tapping at the keyboard for 12-16 hours a day over the space of three months, then burn out, veg out and do absolutely no work for days while I sit comatose on the couch in my jammies and watch my soap opera.
Not surprisingly, this all-or-nothing mentality extends to my cooking as well. In order to perfect my soy-free vegan whipped cream recipe, for instance, I ended up making 50 batches in the space of a month, stopping only once I was satisfied with the result (and then didn’t touch the stuff again for six months).
Last week, my fixation turned to the Chiles en Nogada (stuffed peppers with walnut sauce) that I read about years ago in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. Now, I’m no expert on Mexican cuisine (I suppose having drinks at Hernando’s Hideway in 1994 doesn’t count), I’ve never eaten poblano chiles, and I’ve certainly never tasted Chiles en Nogada.
But when I browsed through the half-price produce at our local supermarket (where I buy slightly downtrodden apples for The Girls), I spied a bag of 8 cubanelle chiles. They appeared to be entirely fresh, and firm as new spring leaves; nary a blemish except for a tiny patch of brown no larger than an aglet (an aglet?? True, it has nothing to do with chiles, but it is the correct size. And besides, how often does one get to use the word “aglet”?).
“I suppose I could use these in a simple roasted pepper pasta,” I mused. “But wait–remember how great they looked at Esperanza and Alex’s wedding? And how 27 trays of them disappeared in no time at all? And how they were so delicious, so imbued with the aura of true love and exquisite care, that they filled anyone who ingested them with a slow, spreading sensation of ecstasy that overtook every inch of their being?”
All right, then! Chiles en Nogada it is!
Once I began to readotherrecipes for thisdish, I discovered that (a) the chiles were actually poblanos, not cubanelles (but luckily, they can be used interchangeably); (b) they were stuffed with a picadillo, a mixture made of either pork or beef or both (neither of which I eat); (c) the filling featured fruits and dried candied peels (which, of course, I cannot eat); (d) the walnut sauce contains queso fresco, a soft, piquant cheese similar to goat cheese (which I don’t. . . etc.); and (e) a simple roasted pepper pasta was starting to sound really, really appealing.
Okay, this might take a little more work than intially anticipated. But I was a Libra with a mission!
Since I couldn’t undertake multiple trials as I did with the whipped cream (I had only one bag of 8 chiles, after all), I carefully considered my options and decided to go with tempeh in lieu of meat, orange zest in lieu of candied peel, and tofu sour cream in lieu of queso fresco. And you know what? The result was outrageously good.
In addition to a spectacular visual image, this dish offers a slightly smoky, soft and fleshy pepper encasing a thick and knobby filling, its sweet and savory notes in perfect harmony; there’s just the slightest hint of citrus underlying the spice. Slathered over top is a rich, extravagantly silky sauce, one that confers a zesty bite along with a whisper of cinnamon. Finally, a handful of intense, sparkling pomegranate seeds finishes the dish with an additional burst of both color and flavor.
I was entirely smitten and enjoyed stuffed peppers three times over the next three days. The HH , on the other hand, wasn’t quite as taken. ”It’s interesting, but just too weird for me,” he commented. ”Though I’m sure it would be delicious with meat.”
With its satin stole and garnet beads, Chiles en Nogada is perfectly dressed for a holiday celebration (in fact, it was originally created to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, with the red, white and green colors of the Mexican flag. . . though I have to admit my sauce was more mauve-tinged than white). It does take a bit of work, but is definitely worth it.
And now that I’ve exhausted my energies on this dish, I’ll shift to the opposite extreme and flake out on the couch for a few days. . . until the next culinary tornado hits.
“Mum, we think those peppers would be better with meat, too. But we’ll still take some of that satin walnut stole and garnet pomegranate beads, holidays or not.”
** though not this year, obviously.
[Chiles en Nogado (Stuffed Peppers with Walnut Sauce)
I've never tasted the original, so I have no idea how far this version strays from the authentic flavor, but the winning combination of hot peppers, sweet-and-savory stuffing and silky, tangy sauce is both enchanting and unusual enough to render any occasion special.
For the Peppers:
6-8 large cubanelle or poblano peppers
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup (240 ml) grated celery root or other firm root vegetable (parsnip or carrot would work nicely)
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) vegetable broth or stock, divided
2 Tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
1 large apple, cored and chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) raisins (omit for ACD-friendly version)
zest of one organic orange
For the Sauce:
3/4 cup (180 ml) of your favorite nondairy sour cream (I used the recipe in Joni Marie Newman's Cozy Inside)
1/2 cup ( g) raw walnuts (I kept the skins on, which accounts for the strange color of my sauce)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) cinnamon
1 drop liquid stevia (optional)
Preheat oven to 425F (220C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place peppers on the tray and bake until just soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool while you prepare the filling.
Heat oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery root, tempeh, chopped tomato, spices and Bragg's. Cook until onions are translucent and tempeh begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Pour in 1 cup (240 ml) of the broth, cover, and lower heat to simmer. Cook until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the tomato paste and remaining 1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable broth until smooth. Add to the tempeh mixture along with the remaining ingredients for the filling; stir well, cover, and simmer for another 5-10 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed and sauce is very thick. Set aside.
Prepare the Sauce: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until perfectly smooth.
Using a sharp knife, slit the peppers lengthwise between the stem and tip, cutting only through the top skin and leaving the bottom intact (leave the stems on as well). Gently pull the pepper open and scoop out the seeds and membrane. Stuff each pepper with filling, dividing it evenly. (Traditional instructions say to lie the peppers cut-side down, but I forgot; I actually like them better with a little filling peeking out). At this point, you may reheat the peppers until the filling is heated through, or just eat them at room temperature.
Spoon the sauce evenly over the peppers, and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Dig in! Makes 3-4 dinner or 6-8 appetizer servings. Peppers and filling (without sauce) freeze well.
Okay, in reality, Thanksgiving means that, like it or not, the holiday season is already upon us. Orange and black streamers hanging from gift shop ceilings, Hallmark stores overflowing with turkey cards and placemats, Christmas muzak on every elevator and wafting through every shopping mall, heart-shaped chocolate and chocolate eggs at every checkout. . . yep, the holiday season is already upon us, and will continue pretty much unabated until somewhere around May 1st.
Okay, then: let’s party!
Before I get to today’s recipe, however, I’d like to wish all my Canadian compatriots a very Happy Thanksgiving! And in honor of the onset of the holiday festivities, I’m happy to offer a very special sale of Sweet Freedom.
I found myself with some extra stock of books and think these would make excellent holiday gifts, whether for a friend, family member, or even yourself! Until December 1st, 2009, you can purchase a signed copy (dedicated to the name of your choice) of Sweet Freedom that I will ship directly to you, for just $25.00 US (a 35% discount). There are no extra charges to this price–no shipping, no taxes!
If you’d like to purchase a copy of Sweet Freedom at this special sale price or would like to learn more about the book, simply click on the “Cookbook” tab above or the book icon to the left. Choose the first (sale) option. There! You’ve just completed your holiday gift shopping–more time to have fun!
* * * * * * * * * *
As much as I appreciate living in the 21st century, in some ways I am decidedly old-fashioned. In fact, in many ways, I tend to cleave to the archaic (and not just because I use words like, “cleave,” either). For instance, I don’t care how convenient bread machines may be; to me, it’s not really bread unless it’s mixed, kneaded and shaped by hand. When I was younger, I used to carry handkerchiefs with me rather than tissues (but had to stop the practice because too many people just got grossed out. Even though I washed them after only one use–I swear!). Ever since living with Mr. Audiophile (aka the HH), I’ve come to prefer LPs to CDs (they really do sound better!), though I suppose both will become antiques in the very near future.
And while I’m comfortable using a computer (sure comes in handy when one keeps a food blog) and I participate (nominally) in Facebook and twitter, I have never really warmed up to the concept of a PDA. I don’t own a Blackberry, iPhone, or any other similar electronic device. What I use is an old-fashioned, faux-leather bound, paper daytimer.
I love my daytimer and couldn’t imagine giving it up for any reason. I mean, it’s 100% portable (slips easily into my purse); it’s easy to use (only basic language skills required); and it never requires recharging (which means I can use it anywhere, any time, even during power failures or while in a root cellar during a tornado). When I want to know what’s planned on December 17, for instance, I simply flip the pages to that date and–voilà!–”dental cleaning” (ugh! has it been six months already??). If the HH sidles up to me and murmurs, ”Ric, sweetie, honey, um, can you drive me to my follow up eye surgery appointment next Wednesday at 10:45?” all I need do is flip, flip, flip, and the answer is immediately forthcoming (yes, HH honey sweetie, I will drive you.).
The other day, I realized that I’d soon need to acquire a new, 2010 version of my book. While flipping through the last few pages of 2009 (where a few blank sheets are reserved for “Notes”), I happened upon a recipe that had been hastily scribbled on the last page. Well, what do you know–it was in my own handwriting!
I do remember, vaguely, copying a recipe from a magazine in my doctor’s waiting room one day. Which doctor? Can’t remember. How long ago was this appointment? I have no idea. Which magazine? Hmmm, my mind’s a blank. Was the dish something I’d still like to make? You betcha!
In fact, the recipe–a roasted plum and baby spinach salad topped with bacon–sounded perfect for the upcoming Thanksgiving table. A novel departure from cranberries or pumpkin, the salad still featured a seasonal fruit, as well as pure maple syrup, one of Canada’s most beloved domestic products. As a bonus, I happened to have a bag of organic plums from our organic box waiting patiently on the kitchen counter and had been looking for a way to use them (since my all-too-frequent tendency is to wait until they’re on the verge of spoilage before sussing out a recipe). I made a quick switch to tempeh bacon–and had a great recipe to try out this long weekend!
The salad came together very easily as the kitchen was flooded with the dual sweetness of warming plums and crackling bacon. The crisp, young spinach is the perfect foundation for the slightly softened plums and smoky tempeh. When roasted, the plums just begin to caramelize; tossed in maple syrup, they offer a lovely contrast of sweet, crusty exterior and tart, juicy inner flesh. Punctuated by thin slices of red onion and the sharp piquancy of dijon dressing, the salad offers a pastiche of flavors that was–well, plum delicious. (Sorry, couldn’t resist).
In this second phase of the ACD, I’m allowed one (non-sweet) fruit a day, so I decided to revamp the original recipe so I could eat it, too. I prepared the original version for the HH, set aside a few plum slices for me, and whipped up a separate dressing for each of us. I’m including both recipes here for those of you on restricted diets so that you can enjoy a little sweetness of your own at Thanksgiving. One serving of this, and I guarantee you’ll be ready for party season.
“Um, Mum, you forgot to mention that Thanksgiving weekend also means one more extra long walk for us Girls. . . we love the holidays!”
Tempeh Bacon-Topped, Roasted Plum and Baby Spinach Salad
adapted from a magazine in my doctor’s waiting room (ACD version below)
A perfect first course to a holiday dinner, the salad is substantial without being overly filling. To make a meal of it, increase the amount of tempeh per serving, and add a side of rice pilaf or quinoa.
1 batch (about 12 slices) tempeh bacon, homemade or store bought (I used the recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance, with the ACD-friendly alterations listed below)
8 plums (not black prune type), cut in half and stone removed
8-10 fresh sage leaves
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp (30 ml) dijon mustard
1/3 cup (80 ml) red wine vinegar
1/2 cup (120 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp (30 ml) pure maple syrup
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 pkg (20 oz or 570 g) baby spinach
Preheat oven to 450F (230C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Place the plums cut side down on the cookie sheet and drizzle with 2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil. Scatter the sage leaves onto the sheet around the plums. Bake for about 12 minutes, until plums are softened and cut side is beginning to caramelize, but plums still hold their shape. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature, then slice into half-moon shaped slices. (If you are using homemade tempeh bacon, you can keep it warm on a heatproof platter; cover with foil and reduce oven temperature to 250F (120C) before placing in oven to keep warm.)
Meanwhile, mix the dressing: In a small jar or bowl, combine the minced garlic, red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Either whisk the mixture or shake the (closed) jar vigorously until well combined.
To assemble, place spinach leaves on a platter and scatter the onion slices over it. Toss the plums with the maple syrup and place over the spinach. Top with the warm tempeh. Drizzle with dressing, then crumble baked sage leaves over all. Serve immediately. Makes 6-8 servings.
Set aside 1 serving of plums before tossing them in the maple syrup; have yours without syrup.
Instead of the dressing above, mix (per serving): 2 Tbsp (30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 tsp (1 ml) mustard powder, and salt and pepper to taste with 1-2 drops stevia liquid.
Make these changes to the tempeh bacon recipe: omit apple cider, tomato paste, and liquid smoke (unless it’s sugar and alcohol free). Instead of apple cider, use 1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice mixed with enough water to make 1/3 cup (80 ml); add 5 drops liquid stevia. Use tomato paste that is free of sugar and wheat (or use puréed tomato). Instead of liquid smoke, use smoked paprika. Otherwise, follow the recipe as written.
[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I'll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I've recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. For this fifth edition, I'm focusing on cilantro. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. This is the fifth entry on cilantro.]
The HH and I just returned from an annual sojourn to what used to be our favorite summer retreat, a country resort up in ski country. I say, “used to be” because, like so many other businesses these days, our erstwhile “favorite” has cut services to the bone and, as a result, is no longer the hotel we remember and loved. Those of you on twitter may have seen my lament that the breakfast “buffet” included precisely one food I could eat: roasted potatoes. The rest of the menu (ham, bacon, eggs, french toast, plate of baked goods and bowl of yogurts) was all verboten to me. As I chewed on my (suddenly very bitter) spuds, I wondered, what about celiacs? What about diabetics? There wasn’t exactly a cornucopia of choices for them, either. In addition, the dinner “service” was so deplorable (over 40 minutes to get our appetizers! In a dining room with six patrons!), we decided that next year, we’ll look for a new place to patronize during our annual summer weekend away.
Well, no matter. The weather, at least, was glorious, and hey–the paucity of food actually resulted in two more pounds of weight loss (for those of you who’ve been following such things, the grand total is 32 lost so far. That means I can now get into my “chubby” clothes, leaving behind my “fat” and “edifice-like” wardrobes, while I’m still not quite slim enough for my “I’m-saving-these-even-though-they’re-out-of-style-and-I’m-really-too-old-for-them-because-I-love-them-so-much” clothes). I also realized that the best way to lose weight is when you’re not really trying. (Hmm. Maybe that resort wasn’t so bad after all. All I have to do is suffer there for another week , and I’m pretty sure I’d be at goal.).
The weekend was an explicit reminder (I guess I’d sort of forgotten) that I am, indeed, following a rather restricted diet these days. Funny, even though I altered my diet to eliminate wheat, eggs and dairy about ten years ago (meat was pretty much already gone by then), I hadn’t really thought of my food intake as ”restricted” (after all, I’d still managed to gain 45 pounds eating that way!) until these past few months on the anti-candida diet. In fact, changing my diet initially prompted me to try out many foods I’d shunned until that point.
One prime example is Indian cuisine. I’d never tasted any of my current favorites–an authentic, long-simmering curry, a crispy papadum, a nubby, melting dal, or peppery masala okra–until I was forced to change my diet. Once I tried the first few dishes, I quickly grew enamored of the fragrant spices like sweet cardamom and warming turmeric, and was easily besotted with basmati rice, vibrant vindaloos and creamy kormas. In fact, it was Indian cuisine that catalyzed my conversion from cilantro foe to cilantro lover.
Whenever we stop in at our favorite Indian restaurant nearby, the HH will often order lamb. I have to tell you, if I’m sitting downwind, it can ruin my dinner. Even before I stopped eating meat, I just wasn’t able to tolerate lamb. Something about the smell–that elusive combination of unctuous yet slightly sweet–always managed to make my stomach flutter and my bile rise, even as a child and long before I understood the true source of those glistening cubes on my plate.
Well, lucky for me, most Indian dishes are naturally vegetarian. On the other hand, it only occurred to me recently that I’ve been inadvertently ruling out a whole category of recipes in my collection simply because they feature lamb, glossing right over those when I scan my cookbooks for dinner ideas.
Well, silly me! I mean, where is it written that those dishes must they be made with lamb? Why couldn’t a favorite soy product (or other legume) stand in for the meat, as they’ve often done before with chicken or beef? I must have been blinded by my visions of guileless black eyes, kinky white curls and baby hooves to even consider it. (I know, I’m a bit slow on the uptake sometimes).
One of my favorite sources of protein is tempeh, and it’s one I use far too infrequently. I thought it would offer a great substitute for ground lamb in a curry. After browsing through various cookbooks, I combined some of my favorite flavors to create a warm, mildly spiced, and slightly unconventional main dish. The smooth, creamy sauce is punctuated by occasional bursts of sweet peas, bits of savory tempeh, and juicy tomato. It’s perfect served over some steamed basmati rice.
And the aroma, redolent with Indian spices, is guaranteed to entice you–no matter which side of the table you’re on.
“Mum, we know you don’t want to eat sheep, but if you ever need them rounded up or led into a pen, we’d be happy to help out. (We’re both part Border Collie, you know.)”
Taking inspiration from recipes in several cookbooks as well as what I had on hand, I came up with this satisfying curry. Use crumbled tempeh, or, for more discernible pieces of tempeh, cut into small cubes.
1 pkg tempeh (I used soy tempeh with seaweed)
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable broth
2 Tbsp (30 ml) organic coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp (10 ml) minced fresh ginger
1 small tomato, finely chopped
1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
2 bay leaves
2 cardamon pods (or 1/4 tsp/ 1 ml ground cardamom)
1 tsp (5 ml) garam masala
1 tsp (5 ml) ground turmeric
1 tsp (5 ml) ground coriander
1/3 cup (80 ml) smooth natural almond butter
1/4 cup (60 ml) unsweetened almond milk
1 cup (240 ml) frozen peas
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh cilantro, finely chopped, plus more for garnish
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh mint, finely chopped
sea salt, to taste (depending on how salty your veg broth is)
cooked brown basmati rice, to serve
Prepare the tempeh: crumble the tempeh and place in a skillet with the vegetable broth. Heat over medium heat until broth bubbles; lower to a simmer, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, 10-15 minutes.
Remove tempeh from skillet and set aside. Melt the coconut oil in the skillet (no need to wash it first) over medium heat and add the onion, garlic and ginger. Sauté until the garlic and ginger begin to brown and the onion is translucent, 5-10 minutes.
Add the tomato, cumin, bay leaves, cardamom, garam masala, turmeric and coriander and cook an additional minute. Lower heat and add the almond milk, almond butter and peas, stirring to melt the almond butter. Gently stir in the tempeh. Cover and simmer for another 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, until flavors have melded and the curry is heated throughout. Add the cilantro and mint and heat for another 2 minutes. Serve over hot rice. Makes 4 servings. May be frozen.
After the HH and I had been dating for about four months and he’d already passed the “willing to tolerate my multiple quirks and neuroses” test, I decided it would be acceptable for him to finally meet my family and old friends in Montreal. I cajoledcoercedbegged invited him to join me one weekend as I headed east. We arranged to stay at the CFO’s place, to visit with the rest of the family, to attend a dinner party at my friend Babe’s, and to spend the remainder of our time sight-seeing; the plans were all set.
And then, during the drive across the highway, the HH contracted some bizarre, sci-fi worthy flu virus and ended up spending the entire visit in bed–febrile, congested, inflamed and sullying tissue after tissue with unsavory bodily fluids. My relatives encountered a slightly dazed, highly medicated, Rudolph-nosed guy who didn’t make the greatest impression (he’s made up for it since).
Ever since that sniffling début, it’s become somewhat of a running gag in our house: whenever the HH and I travel to Montreal, one of us is inevitably sick (most recently, it was my turn; I suffered a wicked sinus headache for the first day, but recuperated by the second). The only time we both felt fine, turned out the CFO was the one with a terrible cold, which she unwittingly passed on as a parting gift to me. Two days after returning to Toronto, I was felled once again.
It may be a cliché to say that men are babies when it comes to having colds, that they whine and complain and moan, even as a woman suffering the same symptoms would simply drag herself from bed and get on with it. Well, not my HH. As in most things, he and I are total opposites when it comes to illness: if the HH gets sick, he retreats to bed, lies inert for about 48 hours, then emerges, like Ripley out of a stasis chamber, exactly as he was before. (The first time this occurred, I was truly alarmed: I was certain the guy had croaked on me, as he literally slept for two days without even getting up to eat or drink). I, on the other hand, am more likely stricken with a chronic, pervasive, low-grade, not-quite-debilitating-but-definitely-quite-annoying set of symptoms that lasts anywhere from four days to two months. I can function, but I’m miserable while I’m doing it.
One weekend a few weeks ago, Chaser had her first encounter with the HH’s unique form of healing. After he crawled into bed, I closed the door, as usual, so Dad could sleep it off. The Girls were entirely thrown off their regular routine. They moped about outside the bedroom, looking rather–well, hang-dog.
Finally, around 5:00 PM, the door swung open and there he was–and vertical! The Girls were ecstatic (“Does this mean we get to go to the trail now??”). Even as hope faded when the HH plunked himself in front of the TV, a dull patina of illness still coating his visage and a network of sheet-wrinkles, like tributaries on a map, spread across his face, those Girls still stuck by their Dad.
I headed to the kitchen to whip up something hearty for the HH’s first meal back in civilization. Before I could even grab a spatula, however, there were The Girls at my feet, staring patiently. Ah, yes, I’d forgotten that 5:00 PM is dog dinnertime. (“Right, Mum. Food trumps sick owner. Sorry Dad, but you’re on your own.”)
As to the humans’ dinner, I decided on tempeh, a food I love but don’t eat often enough. Pairing a vague notion of BBQ season with a half-consumed jar of apple butter, I had my starting point. I realize there’s a plethora of BBQ recipes out there around this time of year, from the archetypal Wingz at Don’t Eat Off the Sidewalk to these recent lovelies at Happy Herbivore and another fairly recent version at Vegan Dad. But I was determined to use that apple butter, so I just grabbed a few other items from the fridge and began to mix.
The results were, after all, very pleasing. The tempeh’s meaty texture works well with the slightly spicy, slightly sweet flavors of the sauce. If you like BBQ sauce with a kick, you’ll enjoy this dish. Unfortunately for the HH, he missed out on that particular gustatory pleasure, as his nose was still too congested for him to really appreciate the taste. Still, the high protein content of the tempeh worked well to help rebuild his stamina, and he was back to work the following day.
But I think we’ll hold off on any more trips to Montreal–for a little while, at least.
These are slightly sweet, slightly gooey with a spicy kick. I assume they’d be even better if actually cooked on a grill, but this baked version was equally tasty.
1 package (about 3/4 pound or 350 g.) tempeh, pre-steamed or ready to cook, cut into triangles
1/4 cup unsweetened apple butter
1/2 onion, grated very fine or pureed
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
4-6 drops Tabasco, or to taste
1 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
Mix all ingredients except tempeh and blend well. You’ll have a a fairly thick sauce. Pour about half the sauce into the bottom of an 8 x 8 inch square greased pan. Place tempeh triangles on the sauce to fit. Spoon rest of sauce over top. Marinate at least one hour, turning tempeh over once.
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Bake the tempeh about 20 minutes, flip the triangles over and coat with as much sauce as you can (anything you don’t scoop up now will dry to the pan–beware!). You can leave a fairly thick layer of sauce on top of each triangle. Bake 20-30 more minutes, until the sauce has dried on top and begins to brown in places. Remove from pan while still hot to avoid sticking. Makes 2-3 servings. Store leftovers in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
I really hate making mistakes. Not only because they sometimes wreak havoc (“What? The model of Stonehenge on stage was supposed to be 18 FEET high, not 18 inches???” or, “What? But I thought the BLUE was the ‘panic button,’ Mr. President!!!”), but also because they make me feel really knuckle-brained sometimes (“Um, HH, can you come pick me up? I’m kind of stranded out here in the woods with The Girls. I’ve locked my keys in the car. . . and it’s running.*”).
Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t have my share of doozies lurking around in my past (though at least mine aren’t as egregious as the Y2K fiasco, or 8-track tapes, or Julia Roberts in Mary Ryan, SteelMagnoliasThe Pelican BriefStepmom anything except Pretty Woman). True, there were those three months I dated philandering Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants); but for the most part, my mistakes tend to the be the innocuous kind, such as dialing my friend Babe’s number when I meant to call the CFO instead (I may be great at remembering phone numbers, but I don’t always note to whom they are attached); or buying decaf instead of regular; or wearing stripes with paisley (which, as we all know, couldn’t possibly go together).
And then there’s the entire gamut of food mistakes.
Salt instead of sugar? Done it. Chocolate seized while melting? Been there. Pie crust with soggy bottom? Don’t ask. Noodles so al dente they could double as a gardening implement? You betcha. Usually, these mishaps don’t bother me too much. Especially when it comes to baking, I realize that the process is so mercurial that what works perfectly one day may turn out completely different the next, so I compensate by adding extra sweetener, reducing the amount of flour, substituting a different kind of nut, or doing whatever is required to appease the petulant confection.
When it comes to cooking, I’m less inclined to experiment. Yet that’s exactly what I did this past weekend, purely as a result of my own gastronomical gaffes.
You know how some women will work an entire outfit around a single accesory? For instance, they might spy a cute little fuschia-and-orange flowered scarf and then go out and purchase matching pumps, belt, handbag and turtleneck, just so they can wear that scarf to a dinner party on Saturday night. In the end, that little rectangular scrap of rayon costs $872.48. Well, I must confess, I am that woman when it comes to ingredients. Which brings me to. . . . The Mistake of the Miso.
Mistake Number One: On Sunday, I decided to construct a brunch menu based on some extra miso gravy in the fridge. Originally, I’d planned to serve the gravy with sweet potato fries for dinner on Saturday, only to discover that I’d grated the last potato as part of The Girls’ dinner the previous night. (“And we really did appreciate that, Mum. But don’t worry about the extra gravy–we’d be happy to help you out with that.”)
Having gravy but nothing to slather it on, my imagination went to work. Mashed potatoes and gravy at brunch? Excellent. But what to accompany it? I pulled out a recipe I’d been eyeing for Tempeh-White Bean sausage patties from Vegan with a Vengeance . I planned to finish off the plate with simple pancakes sans the typical fanfare (my usual recipe contains fruit and other extras, not necessary here). Everything, it appeared, was in order.
Mistake Number Two: Since the sausages were somewhat time-intensive, I started with those. Isa does caution that these are softer than typical processed sausages, but mine fell completely apart on the plate, looking something like shards of clay from an old planter that had fallen off the windowsill. Would the HH eat broken patties? They did smell heavenly, however, so I set any worries aside and kept them warm while I moved on to the pancakes.
Mistake Number Three: Ah, yes, bad things always come in threes, don’t they? Perhaps it was something in the air. Perhaps it’s finally time to fill that new eyeglass prescription. Whatever the reason, the pancakes were a disaster as well. As thin as the line between sexy and hooker; as flat as the line before you call a Code Blue; and altogether too chewy, though not quite enough to cross the line from springy over to rubbery. I knew these would not pass HH muster, as my Honey favors airy, light, cake-like pancakes. (“Mum, seriously, we can help you out with that! Just toss a couple our way. . . “).
These griddle cakes were, it occurred to me, much more akin to crepes than true pancakes (though, according to Epicurious, a crepe is “the French word for ‘pancake,’” which would suggest the only difference between the two is the language in which you mumble, “Please pass the syrup”). For many of us, however, crepes evoke a thinner, more flexible cake, suitable for enveloping a sweet or savory filling. It’s sort of like the distinction between a scone and a biscuit, I think; but to get the scoop on that one, you’ll have to read Johanna’s blog.)
So. I found myself with crepes. And decided to just go along with that.
Rectifying all the Mistakes in a Single Delectable Brunch: In the end, I decided to re-assign the basic elements of the meal, crumbling the sausages as if they were ground meat, and mixing in a few chopped veggies. I stuffed this mixture into the crepes, then smothered the whole shebang with miso gravy. The dish was accompanied by a tried-and-true dandelion salad.
The resultant meal was a bit more elaborate than I’d anticipated, perhaps, but truly memorable. The HH appeared to relish every mouthful, peppering the meal with an occasional interjection of “Very nice,” or “Very tasty,” somewhat like Anthony Hopkins in 84 Charing Cross Road. When he’d polished off the first crepe, he requested another, and thoroughly enjoyed that one, too.
I once read that “there are no mistakes in cooking, only new recipes.” I can only agree. And this new recipe is definitely a keeper–make no mistake about it.
This dish makes a satisfying, filling brunch or light dinner. Vary the filling ingredients according to your own tastes–we didn’t have any mushrooms when I made this, but I think they’d be excellent in the filling, too.
“sausage” patties equivalent to about 5 patties, crumbled (I used the Tempeh-White Bean Sausages from Vegan with a Vengeance)
Make the filling: In a nonstick frypan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sausage mixture and vegetables, and saute until the onion is translucent, up to 10 minutes. Keep stirring the mixture so that the sausage crumbles and resembles ground meat. Once cooked, turn off heat, cover, and keep warm.
Make the crepes: Measure the milk into a glass measuring cup, then add the oil and ground flax; mix well.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the milk mixture and stir well to combine. (It will seem very watery; this is as it should be).
Over medium heat in a small nonstick frypan, pour about 1/3-1/2 cup (I used a soup ladle), just enough to cover the bottom of the pan (roll the pan around a bit if necessary for the batter to cover it evenly). Cook until lots of bubbles appear on the surface, 4-5 minutes, then flip and quickly cook the other side only until dry. Remove to a plate to keep warm. You should end up with 4 or 5 crepes.
Once all the crepes are made, divide the filling into four equal parts, and place a strip of filling across the middle of each crepe. Using the sides of the crepe on each side of the strip of filling, fold toward the centre and overlap to cover the filling. Turn over seam side down onto a platter or oven-safe plate. Pour warm gravy over top and serve. Makes 4 servings.
*In reality, this actually happened to the HH and Ihad to go pick himup, but I switched our identities in the anecdote because I didn’t want to embarrass him by telling the real story on this blog.
WOCA Recap: Now that the (first) week of WOCA is over, I want to thank you all for your comments and encouragement. I can say that the week was not too bad (if by “not too bad” you mean “ripping-your-hair-out-frenzied-housecleaning-ricocheting-off-the-walls-like-a-whirling-dirvish-growling-at-your-dogs-like-a-pitt bull-staffie-cross-cravings-that-almost-felled-you-like-a-200-year-old-oak” not too bad. But I can now say I’ve gone (more than) a week eating only foods that are good for my body. I’m thinking of continuing, in fact, since I fear that even one bite of chocolate will send me into an instant replay of my previous bingeing. Rather than bore you all with my chocolate pangs, I’ll just try to soldier on and will mention only pertinent chocolate-related events or recipes, as they come up.
Sometimes I wish I’d lived in the 1600s. No, not for the lack of modern excesses like cell phones or Doritos or Survivor. Not for what was, in those days, the nonchalant expectation of personal chefs, cleaners, and maids (and all for no pay!). Not for the lack of indoor plumbing, heating, electricity or even daily bathing (as I recently learned from the way-cool book I’m reading, The Dirt on Clean). Not even because back then, people already had dogs as pets, though of course they weren’t treated as well as our canine friends are today. (“Yes, Mum, you do treat us very well. This is a nice story, yadda yadda yadda, but when are you going to get to the part about food?”)
Allow me to clarify: when I say I would have liked living back then, I’m talking about cultural attitudes towards female pulchritude. If today’s society held the same culturally-influenced ideals as to what is considered “beautiful” as they did in the 1600s, I’d be one fine-lookin’ piece of chattel. (Well, for the first 15 or so years of my life, anyway, after which I’d be forcibly betrothed to an old coot and made to bear six or eight children before shrivelling up like a dried dishrag and croaking from some 17th-Century pestilence).
Yes, I’ve always believed that, if only the zaftigfemale bodytype were still in style today, I’d have it made. No more dieting! No more worrying about the little number printed on that tag sewn in the seam of my shirts! No more debating whether to get the elastic waist or the buttons! After all, those groups of 1600′s Rubenesque damsels in all those famous paintings could certainly have stood to get to the gym a little more often, and yet they were considered the paragon of beauty, right?
However, since I live in the 21st century, I’m less inclined to flaunt my excess poundage. With my recently-renewed vow to eat healthfully and also openly embrace the “now,” I’ve decided I may as well make peace with my plumpness, if not celebrate it. Pondering all things Rubenesque, my mind naturally meandered toward the the concept of Reuben sandwiches. Not only are they, too, pleasingly plump, but eating them may just ensure that I stay that way, as well (Bonus!).
In my long-ago meat-eating days (though not as long-ago as the 1600s, mind you), I used to relish Reubens (the sandwiches, not the painter–though I suppose I’d have to concede that his work is okay).
There’s just something tantalizing about the mix of all those towering slices of pink, pickled meat, their softly shredded edges peeking out from beneath a buttered, crisply toasted piece of rye; the sour, briny haystack of sauerkraut, all smothered in creamy, sweet and tangy dressing (your choice of either Russian or Thousand Island), then capped off with a languid, softly spreading cloud of melted swiss cheese–well, the synergy of that particular combination of elements has always made my mouth water.
I’ve encountered many recipes for vegan Reubens over the years, but nothing seemed to tickle my fancy (and my fancy is usually pretty ticklish, I can tell you*). Then, the other evening, I finally decided to finish unpacking those fourteen boxes of cookbooks that have been waiting, patiently, in our basement since our recent move (who am I kidding? November 12th is no longer “recent,” by any stretch of the imagination!). In the process, I happened upon my copy of Vegan with a Vengeance, and found–ta da!–a fabulous recipe for a vegan Tempeh Reuben Sandwich.
Well, since I am no longer fond of meat in any case, and since I have also determined to live in the moment, I decided, tempeh fugit! and went about preparing that sandwich. (Oooh. I can hear the groans through the computer screen. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
With my mouth already watering in anticipation, I assembled the sandwich even though we were short a few key ingredients. I was too impatient to properly marinate my tempeh, so just steamed it in a little Braggs and water, as I normally do (which accounts for its pale countenance in the photos–sort of like a 17th Century Courtesan, come to think of it). However, I did do up the rest of the recipe pretty much as described, except using a spelt bagel for the rye bread in the original.
The result was spectacular. That Isa sure can whip up some great recipes! I devoured the thing in minutes, smacking my lips and licking my fingers as I imagine the denizens of King Charles’s court might have done as they sat round their enormous oak tables, imbibing and feasting.
Not only are these sandwiches delectable, they are so chock full of filling that I daresay they themselves appear rather amply endowed. Like sandwich, like maker; eating that Reuben really did make me feel as if I inhabited a scene from a Rubens after all. Now, if only I could get that “servants at my beck and call” thing happening.
Tempeh Reuben Sandwich (adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance)
Rather than reprint the recipe here, I’ll tell you what I did differently from the original:
1 spelt bagel, cut in half and toasted instead of pumpernickel bread
instead of marinating the tempeh (which I would definitely do next time), I steamed it in about 1/4 cup water and 2 Tbsp. Braggs, then brushed with olive oil and browned lightly in a skillet
I omitted the avocado from the sandwich, because (a) I didn’t think it would work as a substitute for cheese, and (b) we didn’t have any.
*No, I wasn’t being suggestive, just silly. Goodness me, you people have a depraved sense of humor!
I’m still quite new to blogging, and I certainly proved it last evening. At my house was a group of six amazing women–three whom I met at my nutrition school, one from a long-ago volunteer gig, and the last as a participant in one of my (now defunct) cooking classes–and each brought at least one fantastic, high-saliva inciting food to the table. And I? Yes, I, too contributed to the culinary canvas. In fact, I added not two, not three, but four delectable dishes to the cornucopia. But did I remember to take a photo of said table, overflowing with the bounty of our kitchens? Uh, no. I was so engrossed in the captivating conversation, so distracted by the eye-catching textures and colours, interesting ingredient combinations and seductively wafting aromas that I, like everyone else, simply dug in and enjoyed.
By the time I remembered this blog and the fact that I was supposed to chronicle the evening in photos (and post it to Holidailies), it was too late. By then, only a few solitary dregs of each food lay wilted and soggy in the bottoms of platters, bowls, and casserole dishes, far too sparse and too exhausted to submit to a photo op. And for that, I hang my blogging head in shame.
As an attempt to make amends for my lack of forethought when it came to the buffet table, I will here recreate the menu for you, and even supply recipes! I did, thankfully, take a couple of photos of my own contributions before the crowd arrived, so you can have a glimpse of those.
First, the menu. What a great bunch of gals–this is the Vegan assortment they (and I) co-created:
* Garlicky Black Bean Dip
* Chickpea-mint Spread
* Mushroom and Walnut Pate (from Veganomicon), photo left
* Assortment of wheat-free crackers
* Homemade Veggie Spring Rolls with Asian Cranberry Dipping sauce (to die for–will definitely see if I can cadge the recipe)
* Chocolate-Cashew Bark (homemade and easy–see below)
Doesn’t everything sound amazing? And with people just coming off all that holiday excess, this healthy yet delicious meal seemed almost ascetic. Well, except the tiramisu, of course.
After the initial squeals of joy at seeing each other again, and the introductions (the nutrition crowd wasn’t yet familiar with the other two), we settled in to some wine or mineral water and the appetizers. Since I’d promised at least one main and one dessert, I hadn’t planned to contribute to this particular course. But I had a surfeit of mushrooms after preparing the stew, so decided to browse my new copy of Veganomiconand came up with the Walnut Mushroom Pate. I followed the recipe verbatim and was thrilled with the result–smooth, savory, and very rich tasting. I seem to recall a similar reicpe from my childhood, when my mother experimented with ”Mock Chopped Liver” (see, I told you she was an unwitting vegetarian).
The other dip and spread, a chunky, minty chickpea mash and a smooth, slightly sweet black bean spread, were both delicious, but I think all the other appetizers were trumped by the absolutely mouth watering veggie spring rolls with Asian cranberry dipping sauce. A succulent mix of veggies in a filo crust, baked to flaky perfection, then dipped in a slightly spicy, tart sauce brimming with cranberries–it was divine.
By the time we’d cleared the buffet table of appetizers and moved to the main course, we were all anticipating the treasures this group had brought to the table. We began with a zingy vegan Caesar, also from Veganomicon (getting a lot of press in this post!). I made just one adjustment to the already more or less perfect dressing recipe, mostly to accommodate my own peccadilloes and because I felt it would taste more authentically Italian this way: I substituted roasted pine nuts for the almonds in the recipe. Like the almonds, the pine nuts offered a slight graininess to the otherwise perfectly creamy dressing, approximating the texture of grated parmesan. I loved, loved, loved the garlicky creaminess of the dressing, though I must admit it was a bit too pungent for most of the crowd, and that was with only 3 of the 4 recommended cloves!
Guests also provided some sensational stir-fried veggies and Smoked Tofu mixture with veggies, lentils, and zucchini “pasta.” The raw “pasta” is actually zucchini that’s been cut into long thin spaghetti-like threads using a Spiral Slicer. You can approximate this idea by repeatedly grating the zucchini along its length with a carrot peeler (as if you were peeling the zucchini–but keep going even once the peel is gone).
My own addition to the menu was the savory Tempeh Stew, a variation on Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Tofu, Mushroom and Potato stew from her first cookbook, Vegan with a Vengeance. I won’t repeat the entire recipe here, but I will tell you the changes I made: first, instead of using exclusively cremini mushrooms (which looked a little drab and tired at my local grocer’s), I used half portobello mushrooms, for their meaty flavor and texture, and half regular button mushrooms. This is a quick pic of the mushies after they’d been sauteed.
The combination seemed to work pretty well, allowing for a substantial chewiness along with an earthy flavor. I also substituted tempeh for the tofu, as we were having quite a lot of tofu in other dishes and tempeh is my preference in any case. I steamed the tempeh first in a mixture of vegetable broth and a splash of Bragg’s aminos (like soy sauce) before adding it, chunked, to the pot.
The resulting mixture, right before it was covered for the final simmer, looked like this:
Simmering for an additional 30 or so minutes allowed the tempeh to absorb much of the flavor, and the potatoes to soften and soak up much of the sauce. The final product was a thickly sauced, rich tasting and lip-smacking stew that I served with some whole spelt biscuits I whipped up at the last minute–great for sloshing in the gravy.
[Later insert: This is what it looked like, reheated the following day for lunch--mmmnn!]:
We reveled in both the feast and the confabulation for about an hour before venturing to dessert–itself enough to fill the table with platters and bowls!
Absolute bedlam ensued at one point while Barb recounted a visit to an alternative energy worker, the methods of whom were new to most of us (Barb included). While treating us to her vocal imitation of the healing chant she’d heard (somewhat like the scene in When Harry Met Sally, now that I think of it), she became so animated that The Girls, who’d been sleeping peacefully in opposite corners of the living room, immediately leapt to their feet, hackles up and tails erect, snapping and growling as they dashed to the front door to see who was there. Much like the prophet Elijah at Passover, the poltergeist evaded their detection, and they circled the room, roused and disoriented, until we gave them each a treat to calm down, poor things. (“It was pretty startling, you know, Mum. She did sound rather distressed. And we just wanted to protect you all in case someone was trying to steal the food, that’s all.”)
My friend Michelle graciously brought two treats, a container of the Mocha Hazelnut cookies I previously posted on this site, as well as some delicious Mini Pumpkin Chocolate Chip loaves, another recipe of mine that I will post here anon.
I provided a variety of the Mostly Raw Chocolate Truffles from an earlier post as well as a dish I’d created for a customer’s Christmas party last year–Vegan Tiramisu. I got the idea from an old recipe in Dreena Burton’s Vive le Vegan, and adapted it with my own cake and filling. I’ll explain what I did differently from Dreena’s recipe, so you can recreate it yourself if you wish.
Dessert brought more sharing of stories and howls of laughter before everyone dispersed around 11:30 (on a school night!). It was the most fun I’ve had in ages. Thanks, ladies, for a great evening, filled with your talented culinary creations, thoroughly delightful conversation, and generous spirits.
This is a dish I created for a customer last Christmas, and I’ve used it many times since. It may be vegan, but it is definitely not virtuous. A very rich, very luscious and velvety cream filling oozes between layers of light vanilla cake drizzled with spiked coffee. The entire affair is topped off with a light whipped “cream” and then sprinkled with chocolate curls. My HH practically swooned over this one (and let me tell you, the last time he swooned over anything I did probably dates back to the Paleozoic era, just to give you a yardstick on that).
one baked and cooled 9 x9 inch single-layer vanilla cake (I used my own recipe for a spelt and agave-based cake, but I think the agave cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World would work well if baked in a square pan as well).
Filling (recipe follows)
Whipped “cream” (I use a double recipe of the soymilk-based whipped “cream” from How It All Vegan, with the following changes: I use 1 Tbsp. Sucanat instead of dry sweetener, and add 1 Tbsp. light agave nectar. The texture is very light and quite irresistible.)
Chocolate curls (made by melting dairy-free chocolate chips, spreading on a plate lined with plastic wrap, and allowing to cool; then use a carrot peeler to grate along the side and the chocolate will form little curls, as you see in the photo).
about 1/2 to 2/3 cup cold, very strong coffee or coffee substitute, mixed with an equal amount liqueur (either coffee liquer, creme de cacao, or, as we did last evening, hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico).
Filling: I altered Dreena’s original filling recipe in the following way. My version is really a combination of a cooked “pudding” blended with silken tofu.
2 packages extra-firm silken tofu (aseptically packaged, such as Mori-Nu)
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup Sucanat
1/4 cup soymilk (either vanilla or plain)
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup organic cornstarch
In the bowl of a food processor, whir together the tofu and vanilla until perfectly smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.
In a medium pot, combine the maple syrup, Sucanat, soymilk, salt and cornstarch, and whisk to blend. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to boil softly. Continue to stir or whisk constantly, cooking for one minute.
Pour the hot mixture into the food processor along with the tofu and blend again until perfectly mixed and smooth. Pour into a large bowl and place in refrigerator until cool, at least two hours.
To Assemble the Tiramisu:
In a large decorative bowl, spoon some of the filling and swirl to coat the bottom of the bowl. Cut or tear the cake into thin strips or squares and lay down in a single layer over the filling. Drizzle with about 1/3 of the coffee/booze mixture. Cover with about 1/3 of the filling, and repeat with more cake, drizzle, filling, cake, drizzle and filling again, until all the filling, liquid, and cake are used up (you should have about 3 layers of each, and end with a layer of filling).
Top the last layer with a thin coating of the whipped “cream,” ensuring no filling peeks through. Sprinkle with chocolate curls. Refrigerate at least 6 hours to allow cake to absorb the liquid and for flavors to meld.
To serve, spoon into individual serving bowls, or– just to use them and because they look pretty–pull out that old set of martini glasses and use those for a decorative presentation. Makes at least 10 servings, more if your crowd is able to exercise restraint.