31 December 2014

Top 10 posts of 2014

It's time for the top ten posts of the year! Huzzah!

Everyone was certainly into pickles this year, and I am no exception. Also on the menu: gigantic bowls of warming curry, plenty of chickpeas, a simple snack, a full-meal salad, a bright, herbal cocktail, and a whole lot of tomato sauce.

10. Lamb burgers with yogurt and dijon mustard sauce

Lamb remains my favorite meat. That said, you can pretty well tell the scant amount of meat in my diet by the fact that this, the only meat dish on the list, is at #10.

Lamb burgers with yogurt and dijon mustard sauce

9. Chickpea coconut curry with kale, carrots, and peas

This is much more like what we eat on a regular basis: big bowls of all the veg in a spicy curry sauce.

Chickpea coconut milk curry with kale, carrots, and peas

8. Toor dal and spicy sambal cabbage

And if we aren't eating a full-blown curry, we're probably eating a similarly spicy soup. Cabbage is pretty prominent too. All hail cabbage!

toor dal

7. Peanut butter, honey, and banana rice cakes with toasted sesame seeds and crushed almonds

This is the kind of thing I make when I want instant lunch. Super simple and super satisfying.

Peanut butter, honey, and banana rice cakes with toasted sesame seeds and crushed almonds

6. Fennel and orange pickle

The original fennel pickle -- sweet and crunchy and surprising.

Fennel and orange pickle

5. Fennel pickle with lemon and ginger

And of course I had to try out a version with ginger and lemon, because one fennel pickle just isn't enough. An excellent sandwich garnish.

4. Rosemary lemon gin sour

Speaking of lemon, guess what shows up in nearly every cocktail at our house? That's right.

Rosemary lemon gin sour

3. Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender

It isn't summer if you don't get covered with random splashes of flying tomato.

Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender

2. Couscous salad with chickpeas, golden beets, and zucchini

An ideal full-meal salad: all the grain, veg, and protein you could possibly want, tied together with a lovely lemon-dijon dressing.

couscous salad with chickpeas, golden beets, and zucchini

1. Refrigerator giardiniera

It's a straightforward pickle. It's made of every vegetable you can get your hands on. It waits patiently in the fridge to be tossed into quesadillas, onto salads, or next to a hearty sandwich. Giardiniera is so delicious and versatile -- it's the perfect tangy counterpoint to a rich dish.

Refrigerator giardiniera

Hope you and yours have a wonderful new year!

24 December 2014

Last-minute chocolate fudge with almonds

Last-minute chocolate fudge with almonds

The refrigerator repairman fixed our fridge! No waiting around for new fridge delivery! At least something has gone right with our house this month.

And now it is time for fudge!

This fudge is an excellent last-minute creation because it's super simple. All you really need to do is melt chocolate and stir things together. Even if you're as stressed out as we are, you can totally do it.

I based this off Faith's Easy Mocha Fudge with Cacao Nibs. The differences are really quite small: I used brewed coffee instead of instant espresso dissolved in hot water, and I switched up the topping from cacao nibs to roasted chopped almonds.

If you want a more almond-filled finished product, you can up the amount of chopped almonds to about 1/3 cup and stir that into the fudge before pouring it into the prepared pan. An excellent plan for almond-lovers.

Last-minute chocolate fudge with almonds

Last-minute chocolate fudge with almonds

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp vanilla
4 tsp coffee (or espresso for more intense mocha flavor)
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp finely chopped roasted almonds
(OR, for the almond-lovers' version: 1/3 cup chopped roasted almonds)

Start by lining an 8x8 pan with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate chips and condensed milk together in a double boiler. If you have a microwave, you can also use that.

When everything is melted, turn off the heat and stir in your vanilla, coffee, and salt. If you're making the almond-lovers' version, add your 1/3 cup of almonds, reserving a small amount to top if you so desire. Mix until well combined.

Pour your fudge mixture into your prepared pan. Top with chopped almonds, pressing lightly to make them adhere to the fudge. Be sure to lick all the extra fudge scrapings off the spatula at this point.

Chill until set. This should take 2-3 hours at minimum. Leaving the pan in the refrigerator overnight is a good idea if you have time.

When your fudge is set, remove it from the pan by lifting up the parchment paper. Cut into small squares, using a knife dipped in hot water between cuts.

Now pack your fudge into boxes for last-minute gifts, arrange pieces on a tray for holiday snacking, or just filch pieces out of the (working!) fridge in the dead of night. It's all good.

I hope you all have a merry holiday with plenty of delightful treats!

22 December 2014

Emergency pasta with broccoli

Emergency pasta with broccoli

And this weekend our fridge died.

We are having the best possible holiday season around here, let me tell you.

The repair guy is coming this afternoon. We'll see if we need a new fridge. In the meantime, our landlord brought us a couple of tiny dorm fridges.

Remember our freezer full of stuff? Yeah. Me too. It's not full of stuff anymore. At least we tend to keep a lot of nonperishables in there along with the serious frozen food. It means we didn't actually lose the entire contents, and we have plenty of rice and lentils and flour and yeast and what have you.

The other high point is that in a largely vegetarian household, the refrigerator isn't ever stuffed with a $400 standing rib roast or anything like that. Instead, we have lots of vegetables, tortillas, butter, cheese, and eggs, most of which are just fine in an ice-filled cooler overnight.

We'll also get to start over and build a new freezer & fridge in a more organized and less completely bonkers fashion. But that's about it for the good there.

So this weekend was just exhausting. Then we had to cook.

If you've ever thought you can't make dinner with a single pot of boiling water, think again, because we just did.

Emergency pasta with broccoli

1/2 lb chunky pasta
1 small or 1/2 large head broccoli
salt, pepper, red pepper flake
olive oil
fresh parsley
parmesan or another hard grating cheese

Salt a pot of water and put it on to boil. When your water boils, drop in your pasta.

While you're waiting, chop your broccoli into medium florets. Peel the stem and cut that up too.

When your pasta is about 2/3 of the way done, add your broccoli to the pot. Stir to mix and continue to cook for the remaining 1/3 time. Taste a piece of pasta and one of broccoli for doneness. Drain well.

In a mixing bowl, combine your drained pasta and broccoli with salt, pepper, red pepper flake, olive oil, chopped fresh parsley, and grated parmesan to taste. Toss well.

Serve immediately. If you have some extra parmesan or parsley, throw that on top. We had a few chopped almonds lying around, so I added those too.

Don't take any pictures because you are too tired. Go to bed and sleep the sleep of the person who still needs to work tomorrow even though it is officially holiday week.

15 December 2014

Fun times for children

Ok, you guys. I have to tell you something, and that something is that our furnace has been out since December 6th.

Don't panic! We do live in California, so no one is freezing. Our pipes are not freezing. Our landlord is being very good about everything too. But the furnace is not fixed yet. Do you know why it's not fixed yet? Because we have a 70-year-old furnace, and when you have a furnace that old, it's not just an issue to find parts. No. Furnace companies actually won't repair your out-of-date equipment because it doesn't meet modern safety requirements and is thus a liability for them to touch.

So we are getting an entirely new furnace system. In January.

In the meantime, we've been burning a lot of candles, wearing wooly sweaters, and generally reacclimatizing to a vaguely midwestern level of low-grade chilliness.

I've been doing a lot of baking. I made Love and Olive Oil's Molasses Snickerdoodles, which were excellent and vanished in short order. I made Cookie and Kate's Orange Poppyseed Pound Cake for the fourth? fifth? time and it was as delicious as always. I made a vat of kale and olive minestrone, which is always delightful and warming, and I'm pretty sure I should make some sort of huge stew in the next week or so.

On the bright side, if this furnace lasted 70 years, you know it has done its time and is well deserving of a commemorative plaque. That would be hilarious. Maybe I'll do that.

09 December 2014

Chai nog and coffee nog

Chai nog and coffee nog

It's December! Time to break out the nog!

I tend to veer away from the traditional "nog + brandy + rum" concoctions as long as it's not actually Christmas Eve. Instead, nog has become a tasty treat with which to spike my usual dose of hot caffeine action.

Now, I am not one for making very fussy coffee drinks at home. There is no espresso machine in our house, and no milk foamer, and we don't really want to acquire them. So that means these drinks are super simple: just a cup of strong, spicy chai or serious coffee, with a creamy nog addition. They're really easy and really delicious.

Any nog of your choice should work well here. Dairy eggnog, soy nog, homemade almond and date nog -- any and all are good.

Even without any alcohol, the sweetness and thickness of nog makes these drinks perfect for a dessert nightcap. Just use a decaf spiced chai or coffee and you should be all ready for a fragrant, spiced trip to sleeptown.

And if you do want to add a slug of brandy, go for it!

Chai nog

Brew 1 cup strong chai of your choosing. I use a standard tea bag and let it infuse for at least 5 minutes for serious flavor. Top up your cup with eggnog. If you like nutmeg, a little sprinkle is a good garnish.

Coffee nog

Brew yourself a cup of strong coffee. Top up your cup with eggnog.

Drink and be happy!

What festive holiday drinks are you drinking this season?

02 December 2014

Fennel frond, lemon zest, and black pepper cream cheese schmear

Fennel frond, lemon zest, and black pepper cream cheese schmear

Contrary to a variety of expectations, I did NOT pickle the last two heads of fennel that came our way in the CSA box. Instead, I chopped one up and mixed it with a whole lot of other vegetables to roast for Thanksgiving dinner. So good!

However, that left me with a big handful of fennel fronds. What can you do with fennel fronds?

Fennel frond, lemon zest, and black pepper cream cheese schmear

I refrained from simply cramming them all into the half-empty fennel, ginger, and lemon pickle jar, although that was kind of tempting.

Instead, I thought I'd chop them up and see how well they worked in a cream cheese schmear, along with some lemon zest and black pepper. And lo, they worked SUPER WELL.

If you are into the delicate anisey tang of fennel, you should absolutely give this one a try. The fennel and lemon make a refreshing and zingy combination -- an excellent contrast to the creamy creamy cheesy cheese (*cough* *That's a NSFW Foamy the squirrel reference*).

This makes approximately one laden bagel's worth of schmear. Of course, you can always increase any and all of the ingredients at your leisure.

Fennel frond, lemon zest, and black pepper cream cheese schmear

Fennel frond, lemon zest, and black pepper cream cheese schmear

3-4 tbsp cream cheese/tofu cream cheese
2-3 tbsp fennel fronds
zest of 1 lemon
black pepper to taste
optional milk/yogurt to thin

Finely chop your fennel fronds and lemon zest. Mix all ingredients together well, using a fork to blend thoroughly.

To serve, spread on the bagel, cracker, or other toasty bread product of your choice. I had mine on a couple of leftover whole wheat rolls from Thanksgiving. That worked exceptionally well.

Such a great addition to the schmear library. I am definitely going to make this one again, and not just because there is still yet another head of fennel hiding in the crisper.

More schmears for your bagel-topping delight:
- Spicy salsa and bloody mary schmears
- Red onion and dill schmear
- Fresh corn and basil schmear

What are you eating on your bagels lately?

30 November 2014

Thanksgiving in pictures

Thanksgiving in pictures: delicata squash with thyme

Thanksgiving in pictures: mashed potatoes and massaged kale salad

Thanksgiving in pictures: corrots, turnips, onion, fennel, cauliflower, ready for roasting

Thanksgiving in pictures: two vegan roasts!

Thanksgiving in pictures: plenty of roasted squash

Thanksgiving in pictures: whole wheat no-knead rolls

Thanksgiving in pictures: my 100% vegan Thanksgiving dinner

And that's what a 100% vegan Thanksgiving looks like. Delicious, as always.

Somehow I did not get a picture of the pie. (Probably because we were all too busy eating it.)

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend!

26 November 2014

Twas the night before Thanksgiving

Twas the night before Thanksgiving

...and we went out for huge platters of Puebla food and talked about racism in America.

Thanksgiving week would be an appropriate time for that discussion even if the past few days (or 3 months, or 50 years) hadn't been so bad. I try not to use this site for politics, but we're in beyond-the-pale territory right now. Turning a blind eye perpetuates the system. So if you haven't been paying attention to Ferguson, now is the time to go read #FergusonDecision (and just plain #Ferguson and #blacklivesmatter and #TamirRice and so many others), and the New Yorker coverage and On Being a Black Male, Six Feet Four Inches Tall, in America in 2014 and A one-chart summary of every Ferguson eyewitness's grand jury testimony and Telling my son about Ferguson.

And, if you're going to end up at a table with your racist great-aunt Carol tomorrow, you'll probably want to read Here's How to Talk About Ferguson Around the Thanksgiving Dinner Table This Year too.

Start paying attention. Start talking.

Now back to our regular programming.

Tomorrow we're having vegan Thanksgiving at Chrissy and Ben's house. This afternoon I made a Veganomicon cranberry orange bread (sans walnuts and with double orange peel) and a batch of Budget Bytes' no-knead focaccia rolls, both with whole wheat flour. (The no-knead absolutely works with wheat flour as long as you oil the sponge before you let it rest for its 18 hours, so it won't develop a crust. I did a test run last week, and they worked out beautifully.)

I'm going to bring a dish of mixed vegetables -- delicata squash, tokyo turnips, cauliflower, carrots, onion, and thyme -- ready to roast as soon as we get there. Wine, crackers, and almonds will also be making an appearance. Chrissy and Ben are taking care of the mains, mashed potatoes, gravy, salad, and pumpkin pie. We are set.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving? Yes? Maybe? Not quite? Not at all?

Well, if you need some last-minute ideas for a vegetarian Thanksgiving, you've come to the right place.

I find that the key to creating a satisfying vegetarian dinner is to get away from the idea of protein as centerpiece. Protein is in all kinds of different foods! And if you're making a large multi-dish feast to begin with, you have ample opportunity to satisfy everyone.

Refrigerator giardiniera

Snacks and tidbits

- Refrigerator giardiniera
- Spicy caramel corn with maple, almond, and sesame
- Cashew cheese with dill and red onion
- Homemade baked tortilla chips
- Refrigerator dill pickles

potato leek soup


- Carrot and white bean soup
- Classic potato leek soup
- Black bean cauliflower soup
- Purple carrot soup
- Beet soup (also purple, although less surprisingly so)
- Cauliflower leek soup with smoked pepper flakes

apple and sesame almond salad


- Fall salad with apples and almonds
- Couscous salad with chickpeas, golden beets, and zucchini
- Lentils vinaigrette
- Big green salad with chickpeas and herb vinaigrette
- Beet and goat cheese salad

Broccolini vinaigrette with chopped egg and red onion


- Broccolini vinaigrette with chopped egg and red onion
- Simple golden beet and green bean melange
- Brussels sprout, onion, and apple hash (contains bacon, but you can sub butter or oil)
- Sauteed carrots with spicy brown mustard
- Baby leek and potato gratin
- Our entire xmas 2012 vegetable menu

spanish tortilla

Main dishes

- Spanish tortilla
- Baked pasta shells with basil ricotta cream
- Twice-baked sweet potatoes with black beans and broccoli
- Pasta fagioli
- BRIGHT PINK beet risotto

ginger almond yogurt cake


- Ginger almond yogurt cake
- Judy's amazing apple dumplings
- Classic (veganified) pumpkin pie via Food52 & Choosing Raw
- Ginger molasses cookie ice cream sandwiches with pineapple coconut ice cream
- Swedish farmer cookies

classic negroni cocktail


- Classic Negroni cocktail
- Fields of Gold cocktail
- Rosemary lemon gin sour
- White grapefruit mimosas

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

19 November 2014

How to roast kabocha squash (and its seeds!)

How to roast kabocha squash (and its seeds!)

Our CSA is starting to wind down, but in the meantime, it's been showering us with winter squash. We have received no less than four kabocha and six delicata squashes over the past two months. That's...kind of a lot of squash for two people to eat, especially when you consider the rest of the CSA veg supply.

Clearly, the solution is storage.

In traditional winter squash storage, you put your squash in a place where the temperature hovers around 50-55F, such as a garage or basement. Your squash should be dry, free from any punctures, and have short stems still attached. Then all you need to do is leave them there until you want to use them. Squashes will generally stay good for at least two months when stored this way.

Of course, there are a couple problems with this system. First, it assumes that you have an appropriate 50F space in which to keep your squash. Here in California, that can get iffy, and if you happen to live in an apartment, it's going to be nearly impossible. Second, you still have to process an entire squash any time you want to eat one.

So I decided I was going to get ahead of the game by roasting a couple of my squash and freezing the cooked flesh. I picked out a green and an orange kabocha, and I got to work.

This method should work for most large thick-skinned winter squash.

How to roast kabocha squash (and its seeds!)

Roasted kabocha squash

Begin by preheating your oven to 400F.

Halve your kabocha squash carefully with a sharp butcher knife or chef's knife, working your way around from one side to the other. Scoop out the seeds and fibrous bits and reserve them for roasting separately.

Rub the flesh of your squash pieces with a little grapeseed oil, plain vegetable oil, or butter. Season with a sprinkle of salt.

Put the squash halves, flesh side up, on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat. Bake for approximately 40-50 minutes, or until the flesh is soft all the way through when tested with a knife. Rotate the pan halfway through cooking.

When your squash is done, remove it from the oven. If you like, you can eat it now, right out of the shell, with some more butter and a little sprinkle of pepper and salt. Otherwise, let your squash halves cool enough to handle, and scoop the flesh out of the skins. Scrape with a spoon to get as much as you can. The skin will be fairly delicate by this point, but it's edible, so you don't have to worry too much about the occasional shred of skin in your squash flesh.

Now you can use your squash however you please. Mash it well with plenty of traditional mashed potato fixings! Make it into a not-actually-pumpkin pie, and another, and another! Try out a lovely squash soup! If you're feeling especially adventurous, try out a squash cocktail! Or just cool it and pack it into containers to freeze for later squash purposes!

You know which option I chose: eight cups of kabocha squash, safely packed away for future squashy endeavours. It's so satisfying to have a bunch of these in the freezer, just waiting for me to pop them open and create something delicious.

While my squash was in the oven, I started on the seeds. Bonus: these can absolutely roast at the same time as the flesh.

How to roast kabocha squash (and its seeds!)

Roasted kabocha squash seeds

Wash your seeds well in a few changes of water, swishing to remove as much fibrous matter as possible. A little clinging shred here and there should be fine. Press your seeds in a clean tea towel to remove most of the moisture. You should have approximately 1 cup of seeds per squash; I had two squashes, so I was working with two cups of seeds (and two colors besides!).

Put your seeds in a large bowl. Toss with 1 1/2 teaspoons of grapeseed oil (or the oil of your choice) and approximately 3/4 to 1 teaspoon of salt per cup of seeds. Since I was working with 2 cups of seeds, I used 1 tbsp of oil and 2 tsp salt.

If you want to season your kabocha seeds more, now is the time to do it. I just went for the basic salt, so my finished seeds would be more versatile.

Spread your seeds in one layer on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat. Bake at 400F, stirring every 5 minutes, until all your seeds have turned a pale golden brown and begun to snap and crack in the heat. My seeds took approximately 20 minutes to roast.

The finished seeds will be nutty, salty, and crunchy. Since they aren't husked, they will require a bit of chewing, but the effort is worth it in the end. Eat with a tall glass of frosty apple cider or beer, toss a handful into a batch of caramel corn, use a few to garnish soup, or serve a little bowl alongside a platter of cheese and olives.

Store the leftovers, cooled completely, in a sealed container in the kitchen cupboard.

Do you have a glut of CSA vegetables (or garden vegetables, or really any vegetables) to use up? What are you planning to do with them?

13 November 2014

Capellini with kale, artichoke hearts, and red pepper

Sometimes you just want a giant plate of pasta and vegetables.

This time, I happened to have a package of capellini in the cupboard. Why not make a pasta dish comprised of long, thin vegetables to match the long, thin pasta?

To pack this with lots of serious flavor, I went for some serious vegetables: garlic, green beans, artichoke hearts, kale, and red bell pepper. Together, they mixed together into a lovely, intense dish that only took about ten minutes from beginning to end. Perfect.

This pasta is conveniently vegan. However, it is not filled with protein by any means. I would certainly have tossed in a can of chickpeas had there been any on hand, and I suggest you do the same. A salad of white beans and herbs tossed with a nice vinegary vinaigrette would be a excellent supplement as well.

Capellini with kale, artichoke hearts, and red pepper
Serves 1.

2-3 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic
handful of green beans
6-8 artichoke heart quarters
1/2 bunch kale
1/2 red bell pepper
salt, pepper, basil, oregano
capellini or other long pasta of your choice

Put a pot of salted pasta water on to boil before starting anything else. That way, it'll be ready to go when it's time to drop your pasta.

Warm your olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.

Smash your garlic cloves with the flat of a knife, peel, and slice. Add your garlic to the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until they just start to turn a light golden color. Season with salt, basil, and oregano to taste. You can also add some red pepper flake if you want spice.

Wash your beans and slice them at an angle to produce long, narrow pieces. If your artichoke hearts are whole, quarter them. Wash your kale, destem, and shred finely. Core your red pepper and slice it into long, thin strips.

Add your beans to the pan and let them cook for a few minutes before adding the artichoke hearts. Give it another few minutes before you add the kale, and another before you add the red pepper.

Capellini cook in about three minutes, so you'll want to start cooking them at the same time as you add the red pepper. Put them in the water and simmer until done, stirring once or twice to guard against sticking.

When your pasta is done, drain it and add it to the fully cooked vegetables along with a tiny splash of the cooking water. Toss together and let stand over low heat while you wash the pasta pot.

Season the finished dish with some pepper and a little more olive oil. Toss again to distribute. Eat.

If you want a garnish, fresh parsley or grated pecorino would be excellent. I just had some more black pepper.

This was such a good lunch for a grey day.

What are you tossing into your pastas of late?

10 November 2014

The Derby cocktail

The Derby cocktail

It's actually been starting to get grey and rainy on occasion here in otherwise super-sunny California. So, in honor of fall, let's put down the gin and start thinking about bourbon cocktails.

This drink is simple and nicely balanced, with echoes of the classic bourbon sour, and is a good use for that bottle of sweet vermouth that otherwise only gets broken out for Negronis. A great way to mark the seasonal transition.

And as an added bonus, I got a full ounce of juice out of one single, solitary lime. Yes! Leftover lime juice! This never happens. I'm going to credit leaving the lime on the windowsill to warm up for a day before making the cocktail, and also rolling it on the counter before juicing, to break the membranes inside. Yay!

The Derby cocktail

The Derby cocktail

1 oz bourbon
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz Cointreau or other orange liqueur

Shake all ingredients well in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain into a lovely glass.

I think a lime twist would be a nice garnish. I myself had no garnish. It was still delicious.

What seasonal cocktails are striking your fancy lately?

06 November 2014

Heléne's great chocolate cake

Heléne's great chocolate cake

I've had the recipe for Heléne's great chocolate cake, written out by hand (my hand, to be precise), sleeping away in one of my recipe binders for a very, very long time.

The binders themselves are roughly 18 or 20 years old. They're a remnant of the times when people actually printed things out off the internet instead of saving them to a reading list or cooking app for later search-and-destroy style cooking. (That follows, right? Search for recipe, make recipe, destroy by use of mouth.)

I don't know where I found this recipe, but it's a fair bet that I copied it off some site or other at least ten years ago when I didn't have access to a printer for whatever reason. So I have no idea who Heléne might be -- or at least I didn't until I did a search and discovered an identical recipe, credited to Heléne, a Swedish woman from Los Gatos. The internet comes through again.

Heléne's great chocolate cake

Of course, I had to make a few changes. I used whole wheat flour, because that continues to be how I roll. I also only had 1/4 cup of milk, so I substituted 1/2 cup of plain yogurt thinned with a little water to make up the rest of the dairy. And we don't have any round cake pans, so I used an 8x8 square.

The batter was easy to make and super satisfying to work with -- thick and fluffy and delicious when accidentally dripped onto your fingers and licked off. And the cake? It was pretty perfect.

Here it is, exactly as I first wrote it down.

Heléne's great chocolate cake

Heléne's great chocolate cake

2 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp cocoa powder
3/4 cup milk
1 stick melted butter (8 tbsp or 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup flour

9 in. round - buttered & floured - 350F

Mix eggs & sugar; whip until fluffy. Add vanilla, baking powder, & salt. Add cocoa gradually while mixing. Add milk & cooled butter. Add flour.

Bake 30-35 min until toothpick almost clean.

Powdered sugar, whipped cream, strawberries.

Heléne's great chocolate cake

Note that it is not possible to test this cake with a knife without making a giant hole. Toothpick recommended. Don't try to cut it until it's cooled, at which point it will pull nicely away from all the sides of the pan of its own volition.

Had I ever even made this cake before? I don't know --- but I'm certainly glad I made it now. The last of the strawberries are over (actually, they're cut up in the freezer, but hey), so I had mine plain, with a big mug of black tea. Very nice.

How is your fall baking coming?

03 November 2014

Spicy tuna pasta salad with green beans, tomato, and romaine

Spicy tuna pasta salad with green beans, tomato, and romaine

A few weeks ago I found cans of tuna for practically the lowest price ever -- 66 cents each -- and grabbed a stack for future nearly-instant lunch endeavours. You know, like this one. Mixed with pasta and an assortment of garden veg, it was delicious, yet incredibly cheap. Definitely a win all around.

For veg, I looked at what was left of the garden. I know I'm not the only one who still has a windowsill full of slowly ripening green (and orangish, and actually red in some cases) tomatoes. This sounded like an excellent way to eat one. With a handful of the last beans -- a mix of plain green bush beans and scarlet runners -- I had a good mix of vegetables to spike my salad.

And why not serve the whole shebang on a bed of salad greens? Who doesn't like a little salad on salad action? You have to love the texture contrast of chewy tuna and pasta with super crispy, crunchy romaine. Even a soft butter lettuce would be great here, though. It just depends on what you have in the crisper.

In fact, practically any element of this salad can be switched out for something else. Butter lettuce is not the only option -- so are hard-boiled eggs, roasted beets, grated carrots, handfuls of sprouts, tiny broccoli florets, chickpeas, white beans, rice or quinoa, and as many or as few herbs as you happen to have on hand. Use what you have and make what you love.

Spicy tuna pasta salad with green beans, tomato, and romaine

Spicy tuna pasta salad with green beans, tomato, and romaine

chunky pasta of your choice
1 can tuna
1 clove garlic
the tail end of a bunch of cilantro or parsley
handful of green beans (cooked or raw; mine were raw)
1 small to medium tomato
olive oil, touch of vinegar, dijon or brown mustard
salt & pepper
sriracha sauce if you like it hot
romaine lettuce or your choice of greens, washed & dried

Start by putting on a pot of salted water and cooking your pasta. While it's cooking, prep the rest of your salad ingredients.

Drain your tuna and deposit it into a mixing bowl. Mince your garlic and herbs finely, slice your green beans into pieces (bite-sized if cooked, and very thin if raw), and dice your tomato; add all of these to the bowl. If you want to add any other vegetables, beans, eggs, herbs, etc., cut them up and add them too.

Dress your salad with a few glugs of olive oil. Season with vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and sriracha sauce to taste. When your pasta is done, drain it and add it to the bowl. Mix, taste, and correct the seasonings.

To serve, scatter a few handfuls of chopped romaine over your plate. Top with as much tuna pasta salad as you like. Garnish with some extra cilantro or a grind of pepper. Voila!

Everyone loves salad with even more salad on top.

What easy lunches and dinners are you making this fall?

26 October 2014

Fennel pickle with lemon and ginger

So remember the fennel and orange pickle I made this summer? How about a fennel, lemon, and ginger pickle too?

The only correct answer is YES.

This refrigerator pickle is crispy, crunchy, tangy, and bright. It's super easy to make and so, so good on practically any sandwich you can think of. Okay, you might not want it on a classic peanut butter and jelly, but otherwise? Yes, please.

Putting together a cheese platter? Add some fennel pickle and get ready for something amazing. Is your crisp green salad a little boring? Not with fennel pickle, it isn't. Replace the typical relish and sauerkraut on a Chicago-style hot dog with fennel pickle and a touch of spicy mustard, and I promise, you will be in heaven.

It's possibly even better than the first fennel pickle. You've been warned. Try to give the other people in your household a chance to at least try some before you eat the entire jar yourself.

Fennel pickle with lemon and ginger
based on a recipe from The Joy of Pickling

2 heads fennel plus a couple decorative fronds
1 tsp pickling salt
zest of 1 lemon, julienned
1-inch piece ginger, shredded or julienned
4 peppercorns, roughly crushed
6 tbsp champagne vinegar
juice of 1 lemon plus enough water to equal 6 tbsp
1 tbsp sugar
pint jar
canning funnel
chopstick or flexible spatula

Cut each head of fennel into thin slices. Mix the fennel with the pickling salt in a medium bowl. Set aside for about an hour to let the salt draw out some of the fennel's liquid.

When the hour is up, drain off the accumulated juices. Toss your prepared fennel with your lemon zest, ginger, and fronds. Pack this mixture into your pint jar. It may look like a tight squeeze, but with some careful packing, everything should fit.

Next, it's time to make your brine. Put your peppercorns, vinegar, lemon juice, water, and sugar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about five minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved.

Using your canning funnel, pour your brine into your jar. Leave 1/4 inch of headspace at the top. Use a chopstick or spatula to release any air bubbles, and top up the brine as needed. Now lid the jar, refrigerate, and let everything pickle for at least 24 hours.

Now break out your bread and cheese and lettuce and make yourself a sandwich of epic deliciousness.

How is your fall pickling going? Any new and exciting pickles on your plate?

21 October 2014

Yellow split pea soup with kale and quinoa

Yellow split pea soup with kale and quinoa

We are just barely back from a whirlwind trip to a family wedding on the Florida panhandle. We flew into New Orleans, stayed for a day of beignets, coffee, and wandering around, and then set off for that most traditional of American pastimes: driving for several hours across several states to get as many family members as possible into one place at one time.

The wedding -- on a blindingly white and lovely beach -- was tiny but very happy, with toast after toast in both Spanish and English stretching on into the night at the reception. Yay!

We had a great time.

That said, do you know how much vegetarian food there is in the tourist areas of NOLA and the beach (and also the airport)? Not much. Almost not at all. I ate several platters of fish with fried shrimp garnish, a plateful of veal, and an excellent sausage with caraway, but the vegetables were few and far between, and the beans practically nonexistent, except in dishes that also contained large chunks of ham. There were multiple bags of delicious Michigan apples, however!

So when we got home John and I (especially John -- I like meat, even if my digestive system is not happy with me after I eat this much of it) were ready to get some beans and greens into our mouths as instantly as possible. We dug some split peas out of the freezer, got our hands on a big bunch of kale, and went to town.

The secret to making a delicious yet vegan split pea soup is liquid smoke. Well, liquid smoke and plenty of other herbs and spices. Actually, the use of herbs and spices is possibly the secret of vegan and vegetarian cooking in general. You don't have meat flavoring everything automatically, so spice application is super important.

Yellow split pea soup with kale and quinoa

Yellow split pea soup with kale and quinoa

1 cup yellow split peas (green will work too)
oil of your choice
1 yellow onion
3-4 cloves garlic
1 carrot
1 leek
~4 cups vegetable broth
salt & pepper
marjoram, paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne, red pepper flake
bay leaf
optional splash of dry vermouth or white wine
1 bunch kale
handful of fresh parsley with stems
1 cup quinoa
10-15 drops liquid smoke

Start by covering your split peas in plenty of hot tap water. Leave them to soak and begin softening for 15 minutes or more before you start cooking. This quick soak will help reduce the overall cooking time.

Warm a slug of oil on medium heat in the bottom of a 3-quart pot. Chop your onion and add it to the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until your onion has begun to soften.

Mince your garlic, scrub and chop your carrot, and wash and chop your leek. Add each vegetable to the pot as you finish chopping it.

Season your vegetables with a few shakes of salt, as well as some marjoram, paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne, and red pepper flake to taste. Toss a bay leaf in there too. If you don't have every single one of those spices, you can always rely more heavily on what you do have. I just like to use smaller amounts of a variety of different peppers for a nice depth of flavor.

Stir everything together and continue to cook for 5-10 minutes. When all your vegetables are nicely softened, drain your split peas and add them to the pot, along with your vegetable broth. If you would like to add some vermouth, now is a great time to splash some in.

Bring the pot to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until your split peas are completely cooked and soft.

While you're waiting, wash, destem, and roughly chop your kale. Chop up your fresh parsley as well. Put your quinoa on to cook, so it'll be hot and ready when your soup is done.

When your split peas are cooked, take the pot off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and puree your soup to the texture you desire with an immersion blender. Or leave it chunky if you prefer. It's all good. If your soup is too thick, this is a good time to add some more broth or water to thin it.

Stir your chopped kale and about half of your parsley into the hot soup. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until all the greens are well wilted.

For the final seasoning, add your liquid smoke. This stuff is very potent, so be careful and add a little at a time. This is also the time to add pepper and correct any other seasonings.

To serve, add a scoop of hot quinoa to the bottom of a soup bowl. Top with a ladleful of soup and garnish with the extra parsley.

Hooray! Beans (or pulses anyway), greens, and quinoa, together at last.

Needless to say, we both felt miles better after eating this delicious veg-heavy dinner in our own house.

What's the first thing you want to eat when you get back to your own kitchen after a few days (or weeks) of traveling?