Thursday, November 7, 2013

Faux Pho-- A Vegan Noodle Soup

Faced with a bag full of strange greens, including Tatsoi, from the CSA this week I went online and found this recipe for a Faux Pho. I choose this recipe because it was vegan and because I thought I might successfully substitute the Tatsoi for Bok Choy. Oi!

We liked this light and flavorful soup alot and will definitely try it again.

As is often the case, I did not have the exact ingredients on hand to make the dish, so I made a few changes. Here is my slightly tweaked version of a very nice recipe.

Faux Pho

  • 6 oz. Soba noodles
  • 1 teaspoon cooking oil (mild flavored, such as peanut, vegetable, soy, or canola)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 inch knob of fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed or ground szechuan peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • +-1/4 cup cooking oil (mild flavored, such as peanut, vegetable, soy, or canola)
  • 2 baby bok choy, sliced----I used a head of Tatsoi
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 T sesame oil, divided
  • 8 oz button mushrooms
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp vegetable bouillon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (or tamari for gluten free)
  • 1 handful fresh basil, shredded or sliced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Cook the noodles according to package directions, then immediately drain, and rinse in cold water. Toss with 1 teaspoon of sesame oil to keep from sticking.
  2. Add the ginger, szechuan peppercorns, crushed red pepper, and 2-3T of cooking oil to a small stock pot.  Mix together, then increase the heat to medium.  Allow the ingredients to sweat for 10 - 15 minutes.  They should become fragrant, but do not let them burn.
  3. Add the carrots, onions, mushrooms and red bell pepper.  Saute for about 5 minutes, just long enough for the vegetables to begin to soften. Add minced garlic. Saute for about 2 minutes. 
  4. Add the broth and bouillon and greens.
  5. Bring the ingredients to a boil, then quickly reduce to a simmer. 
  6. Add the soy sauce and the noodles.
  7. Taste, then add salt and pepper as needed.  You may also want to add a little crushed red pepper or siracha sauce to add a little heat. 
  8. Divide the soup, noodles, and vegetables into bowls, then garnish with the fresh basil.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

An Unexpected Dinner (or What to do with Green Beans and Shitake)

I have no idea what to call this, but it sure was good.

As so many dinners do, this one began with triage, a look in the fridge to see what needed to be used most urgently.
What I found:
  • green beans
  • shitake mushrooms  
  • turkey bacon* (or smoked tempeh)
  • green onions
These were the necessities. The ingredients suggested a stir fry, as often happens when trying to connect a bunch of disparate ingredients.

Other players, things that happened to be on hand, included:
  • carrots
  • vegetable broth 
  • carrots 
  • onion
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • an endless supply of peppers and jalapanos
Add some pantry items:
  • spaghetti noodles
  • safflower oil
  • Sherry
  • Vegetarian "oyster" sauce
  • sesame oil

... and what did I get?

 I pre-cooked the end of season green beans. They were of mixed sizes. So the fat ones were snapped into smaller sizes and thrown in first to cook longer. Depending on the beans you may cook them for just 3 minutes or they may need more time (6-8minutes). Test them until they are the way you like them.

Slice the carrots into narrow sticks and throw them in with the beans to cook for about a minute. Scoop all the beans and carrots out of their pot and set them aside.
Using the same large pot of  water, cook the noodles until al dente.

Finely chop the turkey bacon and saute in some safflower oil until it no longer looks raw. Add the sliced shitake mushrooms to the same pan and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Add the sliced white or yellow onions and one chopped jalapeno continue cooking over medium heat. Add the chopped ginger and the minced garlic. As everything starts to stick to the pan, add a bit of vegetable broth and about a tablespoon of sherry to deglaze the pan.

Check your noodles. When they are cooked, drain them, throw them back into the pan in which they were cooked and drizzle them with a tablespoon (more or less) of Sesame oil. Toss the noodles around to coat them with oil. This adds delicious flavor and keeps them from getting stuck together. 

Time to finish the dish. Add about 2-3 tablespoons of oyster sauce. If the dish seems to need more liquid, add another dash of veg broth. Add the cooked beans and carrots and the sliced green onions and toss everything around to heat up and get coated with sauce.

Serve over the noodles.

Notes: * Turkey bacon is more like ham or Canadian Bacon than like regular pork bacon. So if you need a substitute, use ham, not actual bacon. For vegetarians and vegans, try using smoked tempeh and taste for salt, you may need to add a bit.
Because of the turkey bacon and oyster sauce, this is a slightly salty dish, much more so than my usual cooking, but I actually liked it quite a bit.
For those of you who may be wondering, yes, there is a Hobbit reference in the title

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Lemony Asian Tempeh

DH: Hey! What's for dinner?
ME: Don't know. We need to use some peppers, how about a sweet and sour?
DH: We have mushrooms, too. Why don't we use some of those?
ME: Don't usually put mushrooms in Sweet and Sour.
DH: What about that dish with the oranges?
ME: Uh, maybe.
DH (waxing nostalgic): Remember that great Chicken Bird's Nest we used to get with the lemon and mushrooms? Can you do something like that?
ME: Sure. Just so you know it won't have either chicken or a bird's nest

So you see why my husband wanted to call this post "Chicken Bird's Nest without the Chicken....or the bird's nest".

I based this dish on another favorite, an orange-y General Tang style tempeh dish.

Lemony Asian Tempeh

4 oz of tempeh, sliced
6 hot dried red peppers

the zest from 1 lemon- I used a microplane for a finely grated zest
2 cloves of minced garlic
About 3/4-1 cup of roughly chopped onion
one red pepper and one green pepper chopped in large bite sized pieces
2-3 carrots sliced
Optional, but good, broccoli florets
One large jalapeno, finely chopped
Mushrooms, sliced. I used three very large ones which yielded at least a cup sliced
Juice of one (juicy) lemon
2-4 T Chopped cilantro

For the sauce, mix together:
1/3 cup vegetable stock
1 T sesame oil
2 T soy sauce
1 T dry sherry
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
4 T sugar

Set aside 1 T cornstarch mixed with  2 T water

This will be served over rice, so start your rice.  Parboil and drain the broccoli if using. It should be al dente.

Saute the tempeh in a very large pan or wok until nicely browned. Remove from heat. In the hot oil, cook the dried hot peppers until they look black, but do not burn them. Reduce the heat if they seem to be burning.

Throw the onions and mushrooms into the hot pan and cook them until the onions start to go translucent. Toss in the jalapenos and the carrots, cook for 2-3 minutes and then add the garlic, and finally the peppers.  Keep stir frying until the veg is nearly tender.

Give the sauce ingredients (from veg stock through sugar) a stir, and throw in the pan. Bring it to a bubble.  Add the lemon juice.

Stir in the cornstarch mixture and let the sauce thicken a little, throw in the broccoli to heat it up. Before serving, stir in the lemon zest and top with cilantro. Serve over rice.

Notes: Do use a washed organic lemon when you are making your lemon zest.
Also use organic cornstarch in order to avoid GMO corn products.
I try to use organic everything because I don't like eating pesticides and frankenfoods.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Chili has been one of my favorite things since I was a kid. My husband does not usually share my enthusiasm. But sometimes the time is right for chili. Like when you have lots of lovely cilantro, pepper and cherry tomatoes growing on the porch, a bit of leftover tomato paste in the fridge, but very little energy and are feeling like a little comfort food.

Cilantro, basil, red pepper, celery, orange peppers, sage, rosemary,
parsley and thyme, off camera, there are some jalapenos
 This is a vegetarian chili, made with finely chopped tempeh to stand in for the meat. The "fixin's" or condiments add freshness and texture. Sour cream and cheese are good toppings too, if you eat dairy. Sometimes I do go for a bit of vegan sour cream.

Chopped cilantro, onions, black olives and cherry tomatoes

Vegan Chili

About 6 oz of tempeh, chopped into a 1/4" dice
one large chopped onion
one chopped bell pepper, any color
2-3 finely chopped jalapenos
2-3 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
3-4 T olive oil
1 T. cumin
1 T. chili powder, I used a combination of ancho and chipotle
1 t. smoked paprika, because I like it
1/2 t. turmeric, because it's good for you
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
a dash of liquid smoke
6 oz of tomato paste
1-1-1/2 cups of water (or veg broth or beer)
Salt to taste, I stared with about 1/2 t.
Juice of one lime
If you want it hotter, add some pepper flakes or hot sauce

This is easy, peasy. Start with about 2 T of olive oil in a medium hot pan. Cook the tempeh. It will probably break up a bit more. This is good. When the tempeh is nicely golden brown, add the onions and saute. As you are cooking the tempeh and the veg, add more olive oil and adjust the heat to keep things from burning. A little golden brown is OK, dark brown or black, not so good.

Add the jalapenos, bell pepper and last of all the garlic. Keep an eye on the garlic so it doesn't burn. Add the spices and all seasonings, then the tomato paste and water. Simmer until everything is well blended. Serve over organic Blue Corn Chips with condiments everyone can add at will.

This is usually when I work on the condiments. all are optional, use what you like and add your own:
  • Finely chopped onion
  • Cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • sliced black olives
  • chopped cilantro
  • Vegan sour cream, (regular)
  • grated cheese, vegan or regular
  • salsa

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Clam Chowder

There are lots of different kinds of Clam Chowder. New England Clam Chowder is cream based and very thick. Some of it is so thick you could stand a spoon up in it. Sort of seems like a heart attack in a bowl. Then there is Manhattan Style Clam Chowder, which is a lighter tomato based soup.
Then there is the Hatteras Style. Hatteras Clam Chowder is all about the clam broth and seasonings.

A lot of Clam Chowder, whether Manhattan, New England or Hatteras Style contains bacon.  Mine doesn't. Bacon is totally unnecessary and tends to dominate.

I don't actually live near the sea, so I make this with bottled clam broth, and canned clams. This makes it an easy pantry dish even in the heart of winter when  we're snowed in and can't get out to the store.

So here is my take on Clam Chowder. It is made with lots of fresh herbs.

Almost Hatteras Style Clam Chowder

3-4 cans of chopped clams
24 oz of clam broth
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1-1/2 cups diced potato

3/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup diced carrot (more if you love carrots)
3/4 cup chopped celery
2-3 teaspoons dried Italian Seasoning
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/2 t dried
one sprig of fresh rosemary (if you don't have it fresh, it is OK to leave it out)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
olive oil
                                                                                    salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, throw in the potatoes and begin to brown them a little. Cook the potatoes for about 5 minutes. Add the onions, cook them for another 4-5 minutes, add the carrots and celery, dried herbs, fresh thyme and rosemary. Keep cooking. Don't worry about a little light brown crust stuck to the pan, but be careful not to burn anything.  When it looks like everything is starting to seriously stick to the pan, deglaze with about 1/4-1/2 cup vegetable broth and scape up the brown bits.

Add the clam broth and heat to a simmer. Open the canned clams and drain the broth into the soup. Test a potato and the carrots to see if they are nearly tender if yes, then proceed. If not, then let them cook a few minutes more. Add salt and pepper as desired. I use about 1/4-1/2 t. each. When all the broth gets hot and the vegetables are cooked enough for your taste, add the clams.

When the soup returns to a simmer, throw in half the parsley and give it a stir. Use the rest to garnish the individual servings.

This was an excellent dinner served with fresh baked bread and a salad.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why Gnomes Cook

I cook at home nearly every night. It isnot always interesting food or photo-worthy, but it is usually tasty and mostly healthy. I don't necessarily cook because I love coooking, but I do like to eat and I like to know what I'm eating. This is what real food looks like:

I don't eat fast food. Fast food is terrible for you. And once you realize what's in it, it's pretty gross, kids.

Here are some recent reasons revelations about what is being feed to humans by the corporations these days:

What's in your burger? It's not meat.

How about the chicken McNuggets? What the hell is that stuff, anyway?
Another link to photos of what is hiding in McNuggets.

To be fair, it is probably all Chicken Nuggets made from conventionally grown chickens. Chickens and livestock are fed GMO corn and various additives. Chickens are fed ARSENIC and other chemicals to make them grow and to color the meat to make it look good. Do you find arsenic to be appetizing? I don't.

USDA standards do not allow arsenic in organic-chicken feed. So buying organic offers some protection.

How about some yummy GMO's? Eat them at your peril.
GMO Links to tumors , the toxic things GMO do to your innards

So I cook at home using organic ingredients. Restaurants and packaged foods you buy at the grocery store are full of bad chemicals and GMOs.

The mainstream news doesn't usually report on how toxic the food is. In fact they are into refuting the benefits of organic foods. But if you want to know more, do some of your own searches on the internet. Here are some older articles I have collected about what you are really eating.

Monday, August 19, 2013

It Came from the Freezer

We have lovely fresh green beans from the garden and needed something to go with. So Veggie Burger it is. These home made burgers are good and freeze well.

I found this recipe on the Food Network. To be frank, I don't like Guy Fieri. I find his shows unwatchable and most of his food is unappealing, but this is a good recipe, perhaps because it originated with his vegetarian sister. I have made a few changes in the recipe. I use kidney bean instead of chickpeas, and leave out the artichoke hearts. Sometimes I leave out the egg and use a substitute.

I made some fresh buns and with a side of organic fries, it is filling and even somewhat healthy.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Making Bread

I make all of our bread. Why? Because that way I know exactly what's in it. I only use organic flour. My bread doesn't contain any hidden dairy or animal products or unpronounceable chemicals. One of the most revolting ingredients in commercially made bread is L-cysteine, which according to this article is sourced from human hair. 

Mix this bread up about once a week and have fresh rolls or loaves every day!
This is my everyday recipe, adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking
by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. The book contains lots of information about bread making and many recipes.

Equipment that can be helpful includes:
A very large bowl to mix, rise and store dough. I use a 5 quart stainless steel bowl.
A Pizza or baking stone. You can bake directly on the stone, no pans to clean.
A pizza peel. This item is optional, but I use it as a surface on which the dough can rise before baking and way to transfer the bread from the oven to the cooling rack.
A pastry scraper, to move the dough or baked rolls, substitute a metal spatula until you become a dedicated breadmaker.
In a large bowl mix together the following ingredients in the order they are listed.
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons yeast
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup oat bran*
  • 2-2/3 cup whole wheat flour*
  • 2-1/2 to 3 cups bread flour or all purpose flour*
Place water in a very large bowl. Stir in yeast and salt. Stir until the yeast begins to dissolve. Add the bran and whole wheat flour. Mix well. Use a whisk for as long as it works. You may need to switch to a spatula when the dough gets thick. Finally add the last 2-1/2 to 3 cups of bread flour. Stop adding flour when the dough is till sticky and wet. DO NOT Knead. Just mix everything together.

The goal is a rather loose, moist well-mixed dough. You do not want to add so much flour that the dough is dry or stiff. 

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a pot lid. Allow the dough to rise for two hours. After the dough has risen, place the bowl in the refrigerator for one hour or more. Although you can begin making bread immediately after the dough has risen, refrigerating the dough will make it much easier to handle. 

When you are ready to make bread, remove the dough from the fridge and tear off a piece of dough. Form the dough into a round loaf or into large rolls. I make rolls and use about 1/3 cup or a nice handful for each roll. Make as much bread as you need and put the rest back in the fridge, covered. I usually cover with a piece of plastic wrap and a large pot lid. 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the loaf or rolls onto a generously floured pizza/bread peel or cutting board. Let the dough rest while the oven comes up to temp, 20-40 minutes, less time for rolls, more for a loaf. 

Bake the bread on a pizza or baking stone for best results. Alternatively, the bread can be placed on a cookie sheet to rest/rise and then slide the cookie sheet into the oven when ready.
Bake rolls for 12-15 minutes and a loaf for about 30-40 minutes. 

Loaves can also be made in a bread pan. This amount of dough will make make two loaves. If making loaves, let the dough rise again for at least an hour, or up to two hours if the dough comes from the fridge. 

Notes: ***The dry ingredients (bran, WW flour and bread flour) in this recipe equal ~5-1/2-6 cups total. You can vary the ingredients somewhat as long as you keep the wet to dry ratios the same. For example, use more whole wheat flour and less bread flour, add 3 T flax seed in place of the same amount of flour, use up to one cup of oatmeal instead of flour or eliminate the bran and use an equal amount of flour instead. Just strive for about 5-1/2 total cups of any variety of flour/bran/flax/oatmeal.

I think this is the easiest bread in the world because I always have dough on hand and can form and bake rolls in about 1/2 hour. I make the dough about once a week and like the book says it takes only a few minutes a day to make fresh crusty bread. The book will provide a whole lot of fine points about equipment, mixing, and forming the loaves along with many recipes.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Singapore Sling

You were expecting maybe a drink with an umbrella in it?

No, this is just my take on Singapore Noodles.
We had a really delicious version of this dish at Cafe Asia in Roanoke, VA recently. So I am going to start working on making it at home. I found a recipe in World Vegan Feasts that gives me a place to start.

The ingredients included some julienned vegetables, some tempeh, rice vermicelli, curry powder and turmeric.

Since I stayed pretty close to the published recipe, I will not repeat it here. Once all the vegetables are prepped, the cooking doesn't take long, but the prep took me a very long time. It was good, but not yet great. Needs tweaking.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Broiled Salmon with Sesame Noodles and Organic Kale

Asian Salmon Cake Sandwiches with a Fresh Garden Salad,
French Fries and a little Pico de Gallo
Pico de Gallo

chopped tomatoes, I use cherry tomatoes
finely minced onion
finely minced jalapeno pepper 
lime juice

I always make it fresh and only enough for one meal. The proportions are not critical, but approximately 2 parts tomato to 1 part each of onion and jalapeno, the juice of a lime and as much cilantro as you like. 
Pico goes with fish, on chili, or any kind of Mexican food like tostadas, burritos or quesadillas. Or just eat it as a salad.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Asian Salmon Cakes

Asian Salmon Cakes are a dish I like to make when we have cilantro growing.
I usually serve them with Sesame-Peanut Noodles.
This dish began after we ate some tuna burgers at the Roanoke Food Co-op. They were pretty tasty, so I tried to replicate them at home. I decided to substitute salmon for the tuna as a healthier option. As time went by, I tweaked them to my taste and here is the result.

The noodle dish contains a lot of things I like mixed together very roughly based on some sesame noodles I ate once at Whole Foods.

I have added some substitutions (in parentheses) for anyone with peanut allergies, although if you are completely allergic to nuts, these are not good dishes for you.

Asian Salmon Cakes

2 cans (or packets) of salmon, or leftover salmon, flaked, about 6-8 oz.
1/3 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup roughly chopped peanuts (cashews)
5 chopped scallions or 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon Thai seasoning
Juice of one lime
1/2 cup Panko, plus additional panko to coat the cakes
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Mix all ingredients together, including 1/2 cup of the panko. Form into 6 patties. Heat oil over medium heat. Put some panko onto a plate. Dip each patty into panko to coat before placing it in the pan to cook. Cook on each side until golden brown. Serve with a slice of lime.

Sesame-Peanut Noodles

1/4 cup finely chopped peanuts (cashews)
1/4 cup finely minced onion or green onion
1 grated carrot
2 T. finely minced green or red pepper
1 finely minced jalapeno (optional)
1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
Chopped cilantro to garnish

Place all of these ingredients in a large bowl and mix them together.

Cook 6-8 oz of spaghetti noodles in boiling water until al dente.

While the noodles are cooking, make the sauce, by mixing together:

3 T. soy sauce
1-1/2 T rice vinegar
1 T smooth peanut butter (tahini)
1-1/2 t sugar
3 T sesame oil
1 t. Thai seasoning

I use a whisk to mix these ingredients together. Otherwise it is hard to mix in the peanut butter (or tahini).
Have the sauce ready when the noodles come off the heat. When the noodles are cooked, drain them and dump them into the large bowl with the chopped ingredients. Pour the sauce over while the noodles are still hot and toss everything together. Add cilantro if you like.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Crab Rolls!

It's leftover night. We had snow crab legs a night or two ago. When there is leftover crab, I like to make crab rolls. They remind me of lobster rolls on the Maine coast. Pick the crab out of the shells and mix with a little mayo. We also had some potato salad leftover, so it made a perfect summertime treat.

Guest Chef: Chicken Marsala

Served with a Fresh Garden Salad and Potato Cakes

Chicken Marsala is a relatively simple dish to make. Not a lot of ingredients required and no complicated cooking techniques involved.

Chicken Marsala
serves 2

1 boneless chicken breast, sliced thinly
olive oil
8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced thinly lengthwise
1/2 t. dried thyme (or more)
2 cups of sweet Marsala
salt and pepper to taste
fresh chopped parsley

Saute the sliced chicken in olive oil over medium heat until just about done.  Remove from pan and reserve. Saute the onions and mushrooms in the same pan with a little more olive oil. Add the thyme and some pepper. When everything starts to brown, add the Marsala. Turn up the heat to high and let the Marsala reduce by at least half. Add the chicken back into the pan and heat through. Season to taste and top with parsley.

This is one of my favorite chicken dishes. Now the guest chef makes it more often than I do.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tomato Season

This has not been a great year for tomatoes. We always try to grow enough tomatoes to make some red sauce and if possible to can some sauce to eat during the winter. This is the first batch I have been able to make this year, and I hope it won't be the last.

How to Make a Big Pot of Spaghetti Sauce from Fresh Tomatoes

Green pepper
Jalapeno pepper (optional)
Italian seasoning, dried
Red wine

I begin by going out to the garden and picking any ripe tomatoes I can find. Returning to the kitchen, I first wash, then peel, seed and chop them.

Tomatoes are easy to peel if you first drop them into boiling water for 10-15 seconds. If you see the skins split quicker than this, pull them out of the water.

Remove the seeds and then chop the tomatoes. I am not fussy about the chop. I do some small, some medium and some large for a little variety in texture. You can chop everything finely if you want a smoother sauce, or even use a hand blender after they have cooked down a bit.

Load the chopped tomatoes into a large pot. I usually use a 6 quart pot and cook the tomatoes on low heat until they have reduced by almost half. This can take a few hours, because you must use low heat or the tomatoes will burn. You can start cooking them before you have all of them chopped, just keep adding more as you go. I ended up filling half the pot. On a good day, we can fill a whole pot to the brim.

Now that the tomatoes are cooking it is time to start working on the rest of the ingredients. Chop some onions. I use lots. The amount depends on how much tomato you have. For this batch, I probably chopped three cups of onion. Chop 4-5 large cloves of garlic. Use more or less if you like.

Saute the onion in olive oil in a large separate pan. Cook the onions until they have started to color and caramelize, throw in the garlic and the Italian seasoning and continue to gently cook for a few more minutes, then add the onions and garlic to the pot of tomatoes.

Chop some green peppers. This batch used about 2 cups. I also added 3-4 finely minced jalapenos, seeded and deveined. Why? Because they were there and they give the sauce a little kick. Totally optional. Saute the peppers lightly and throw them into the pot.

Add about a cup of red wine, a teaspoon of sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let everything simmer and start tasting. Does it need more garlic? More Italian seasoning? A bit of salt? A pinch of sugar? Taste and season as you like. I am very careful with the salt and sugar. They are easy to add, impossible to take out.

Often the sauce will need a bit of sugar because the tomatoes are acidic and if they are at all under ripe, they can taste sour. Add the sugar carefully, just a teaspoon or less at a time, stirring and tasting. Same procedure with the salt, although I only go 1/2 teaspoon at a time.

This is a procedure for the committed red sauce lover. Not undertaken lightly. It takes time and patience. We think it is well worth it for that first pot of fresh spaghetti sauce.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tangy Cherry Chicken with Walnuts

Guest Chef Night

This chicken dish is a specialty of the guest chef and a favorite with the diners, all two of them.

The chicken is encrusted with dried thyme and sauteed. The sauce is a white wine (Pinot Grigio) based sauce with sauteed onions and celery, dried cherries, rehydrated in the sauce, and with toasted walnuts added tableside to maintain their crisp texture. The "tangy" taste was from some minced jalapeno peppers. If the fresh jalapenos are not available, use pepper flakes.

Sides included fresh garden green beans and mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Spaghetti Fra Diavolo

What began as a "simple dinner" of spaghetti to use up some partial containers of tomato products turned into a major production. The result was well worth it, a delicious dinner of Spaghetti Fra Diavolo. Why Fra Diavolo? A number of circumstances came together to produce prodigious quantities of jalapeno peppers, so they will probably be turning up everywhere from now to October.

When I was gathering my ingredients I noticed some garden tomatoes in the fridge. They were not beautiful big ripe slicing tomatoes. Some of them were small, some of them were down right ugly, but they did come from our garden, had survived the month of rain (about 15 inches) and they are as organic as you can get. So I decided that instead of opening more tomato anything, I would use those tomatoes in my sauce.

We also had some fresh yellow cherry tomatoes from the garden and fresh basil on the deck.

I began by making some rolls. Once they were rising I started work on the rest. This is more of a rough guide than a recipe.

Fra Diavolo Sauce

  • olive oil
  • one large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded, deveined and very finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8-10 fresh tomatoes, skinned and seeded, roughly chopped
  • 1/2-3/4 cup red wine (I happened to have a Merlot)
  • 2-3 t. dried Italian seasoning
  • 1-1/2 cups strained or crushed tomatoes (from a jar)
  • about 3 T tomato paste
  • 2-3 T fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • Fresh basil leaves, whole or chiffonade, lots
  • Fresh cherry tomato halves
  • Spaghetti
  • (optional) sliced and browned Tofurky Italian Sausage
  • salt and pepper as desired

I started with my onion, garlic and jalapeno prepped and worked on skinning, seeding and chopping the tomatoes as the onions and then the sauce cooked. I liked the way some of the tomatoes were cooked more than others. 
Heat a large skillet and add olive oil. Swirl enough oil into the pan to lightly coat the bottom. Cook the onion over medium low heat until translucent. Add the jalapeno and continue to cook. Add the garlic. Start adding the chopped tomatoes as you get them chopped. Add the Italian seasoning and the strained tomatoes from the jar. Continue to cook everything as you prepare and add more tomatoes. It is OK if the ingredients get a little brown. When they begin to stick to the pan significantly, add the red wine. Continue to cook everything down. Add the tomato paste and 1/2 cup water (or more wine).

Cook the spaghetti and the Tofurky Sausage (if using). Serve the cherry tomatoes and basil at the table, and the sausage to the side, so everyone can dress their own plate as they like. But don't skip the raw cherry tomatoes or the basil. They're great!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Potato Salad

Potato Salad is quintessentially summery. It goes with sandwiches, hot dogs, barbeque, picnics....

I made some recently and it was so good I had to make some more. We had it with sandwiches on fresh baked rolls. Mine is a no-mayonnaise vegan version.

Potato Salad

About 4 cups of diced potatoes. They don't need to be peeled if they are clean and organic. The dice should be a medium-large bite size.
1/4-1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4-1/2 t coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 t. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 T yellow mustard
4-5 finely chopped sweet pickles and 2-3 T pickle juice

Place the diced potatoes into a saucepan with water to cover. Bring the potatoes to a boil and boil for about 4-5 minutes. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.

Check a large piece of potato for doneness. It should be al dente to tender but not mushy.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and add to the bowl with the dressing. Toss everything together and taste for seasoning.

If you want a creamier dressing, all you have to do is cook a handful of the potatoes for a few minutes longer. The longer the potato cooks the more it dissolves into the dressing.

This is a slightly tangy salad. If you want a milder or sweeter flavor, use less vinegar and a little more sugar.

Plain Food: Tater Cakes

Mashed potatoes seem to go with so many dishes. They are a great side dish to have with many different sauces or any gravy. As a result, we often have mashed potatoes, and just as often have leftover mashed potatoes. In fact, we make it a point to have extra just so we can make potato cakes.

Are you thinking of a plain patty of cold potato thrown into a pan? Around here there wouldn't be too many complaints about that but I am actually talking about something a little more interesting.

I almost always have onions and mushrooms on hand and that's where my basic potato cake begins.

Place the leftover mashed potatoes in to a large bowl. Usually these are cold and come straight from the fridge. You want plenty of room in the bowl to stir in additional ingredients.

Chop the onions and mushrooms and saute them in olive oil a large skillet. How much onion and mushroom? That depends on the potatoes. I like to add no less than 1/2 and onion and 4 large mushrooms for every cup and a half of potato. Don't skimp, you're adding flavor.

Let the onions and mushrooms get a little brown. Add a generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper.

Put the sauteed veg into the bowl with the potatoes while still warm. Keep the skillet handy to cook the potato cakes. Add a handful of panko. Panko is Japanese breadcrumbs and it is nice and crunchy.  If I have a bit of vegan sour cream, I will often add about 2 tablespoons at a time for moisture and richness.

Now you can form the cakes. Make them about 1/3 cup each, form into patties. If they seem loose, mix in more panko. Heat more olive oil in the skillet. Dip each side of the cake into panko, then transfer to the skillet. The pan should be medium hot and there should be a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet.
Let the cakes brown on each side and serve.

You can add almost anything to these cakes: Fresh herbs, chopped broccoli or other vegetables, leftover flaked fish. A little more exotic, add leftover sauces to the potato before forming into a cake. I made some really good ones with leftover Provencal sauce. Be creative and put something different into a potato cake tonight.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Crab Tostadas

This more about chopping than cooking. Comfort food pure and simple. Select your favorite tostada toppings, chop them up and put each in a little bowl or dish. Some of them are best cooked and others are better raw.

Preheat oven to 400F.  Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Start with a tostada shell, basically a flat corn tortilla. Place the tortillas onto the parchment paper. You might want to pre-crisp them in the oven for 5 minutes before adding toppings.

The main ingredient on these is crab, or to be more precise, imitation crab. If you have actual crab as we do now and then from crab legs, then that would be a definite upgrade. No crab? I really like these with refried beans as the base, too. Distribute the crab over the tortilla or spread the tortilla with a layer of beans.

Next ingredient is grated cheese. I like organic cheddar, but use whatever cheese you like including vegan, like Daiya. Cover the tortilla with cheese.

Now for the toppings that will be cooked. These include chopped onion, black olives bell peppers and jalapeno peppers. Add them to the tortillas.

Put the tostadas into the preheated oven and cook until bubbly, about  10 minutes.

When they come out, plate them and let everyone top them with the rest of the condiments. These include cherry tomatoes or chopped fresh tomatoes, cilantro, and (vegan) sour cream.

We had these with a side of Spanish Rice and refried beans. Another Tex-Mex night.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Kung Pao Noodles

This is a dish I have made many times. It is a nice spicy way to use a mixture of fresh vegetables. It all began after I had a pretty good meal in a restaurant in Northern VA. I had never had a kung pao with noodles before. So when I came home, I wanted to try to replicate the dish.

Kung Pao Noodles with Vegetables and Tempeh
1/4 c. minced onion
1/2 T. finely chopped fresh ginger
2-3 cloves of finely minced garlic
6-10 small dried red peppers
3-4 sliced scallions
1/2 cup peanuts
peanut oil for stir frying
Tempeh, cut into slices, approxiamtely 1/4" x 2" 
up to 2t. Szechuan Peppercorns, ground in a motar and pestle (or spice grinder)
1T cornstarch mixed with 2T water (set aside)

Vegetables of your choice:
green beans, cut into 2" sections
green or red bell pepper sliced or cubed
sliced carrot
water chestnuts

Mix together for the sauce:
1/3 c. light soy sauce
2 T vinegar
4 T dry sherry
3t. sugar
3/4 t black pepper

In hot oil stir fry the tempeh until golden brown. Remove from pan and reserve. Add additional oil if needed. Roast the dried red peppers in the oil over medium heat. When they begin to turn black, begin to stir-fry the vegetables, except for the green onions, in the same pan for 2-3 minutes. The vegetables should be crisp. Add the ginger and garlic, being careful not to brown the garlic. Add the sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and add cornstrach mixture and as the sauce begins to thicken, return the tempeh to the pan. Finish by adding the peanuts, green onions and Szechuan pepper. Stir these in and serve with brown rice.
You can adjust the heat on this dish in a few ways. If you like it milder, use only 3-4 dried peppers and reduce the amount of black and Szechuan Pepper. If you like it hot, increase these ingredients. I use about 8 dried peppers and 3/4-1 teaspoon of black pepper which makes it quite spicy but not painful.

Meat eaters can certainly add chicken or other meat to this.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Whenever one is dealing with leftovers, its a little like playing "Chopped".  Look in the fridge and see what needs to be used most urgently. That's your "Mystery basket". Now make something delicious!

So last night the Mystery Basket ingredients were:
  • Leftover chicken
  • Leftover cooked rice
  • Fresh garden tomatoes, various kinds
  • Fresh jalapeno peppers

From our leftover "pantry" we also found: 
  • Some sprouted wheat tortillas
  • A partial jar of crushed tomatoes 
  • Bits and pieces of several onions
  • Some black olives
  • Some refried beans
frozen bell peppers from last years garden

New additions (so that one never runs out of leftovers):
  • Cilantro
  • garlic
  • spices: ancho chili  powder, cumin, smoked paprika and whatever else seems to fit
  • White vinegar
  • olive oil
  • Enchilada sauce from a can for those who prefer it that way

I made two kinds of enchiladas, one to suit each diner and some "Spanish Rice". I put the rice in quotes because I feel fairly certain that this dish is probably an American concoction. That doesn't mean it's bad, just probably not authentic.

Hey! Somebody get that cabbage out of there!
 Actually, was going to try to fit the cabbage into dinner,
but ended up putting it away for another night.

Step one: Prep all the ingredients. Preheat the oven to 400.
Chop tomatoes, finely mince all the jalapenos, chop the onion, clean and chop the cilantro, chop the chicken if needed.

Make enchilada sauce: Mix together about 1 cup of crushed tomatoes, 2t vinegar, 1/2t chili powder, 1/4t. garlic powder, 1/2t. cumin, and 1/2t smoked paprika to make an enchilada sauce for those who don't like canned sauce.

Step two: Start the rice
Heat a Tablespoon  of olive oil in a large saute pan. Cook about 1 cup of onions in the pan until they begin to caramelize or color a little bit. Throw in about 2 T of minced jalapeno pepper and the garlic. Watch the temp so the garlic does not burn. If you have fresh bell peppers, add them now.  I had frozen peppers so I waited to add them later.

Once the vegetables are softened, add the rice and some spice. I used chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika, about 1 teaspoon of each. Toss around and stir fry over low flame so rice doesn't stick.

Step two-and-a half: Assemble the enchiladas
Do this as the onions/veg/rice cooks.
Lay a tortilla on an oven-proof plate.
Smear some sauce on the tortilla.
For the chicken enchilada, I used canned sauce because my diner prefers it that way. Top the sauce with chicken and cover with move sauce. Add chopped onion, raw tomato, diced jalapeno, and cheese. Roll up the enchilada and top with more sauce, more cheese and some black olives. Add bell peppers if you have them. Put some refried beans on the side of the plate and slide the whole plate into the oven.

For my vegetarian version I used the sauce I made in step one. I smeared the tortilla with refried beans and covered them with sauce. I topped that with onions, jalapeno, and chopped cherry tomatoes, (no cheese inside). The I wrapped it up and topped with more sauce, cheese and black olives and slid it into the oven. Cook for 15-20 minutes until everything is hot and bubbly.

This is the vegetarian version, with the rice to the side.

Step 3: Complete the rice
Add about 1/2 cup of the jarred crushed tomatoes. Add salt or soy sauce* to taste. Gently heat everything and watch so it doesn't burn. If using frozen or canned bell peppers, add them now.

Step 4: Final assembly
Bring the plates to the table with some chopped tomatoes and cilantro. Let everyone top their own enchilada. Believe me the fresh raw tomatoes on top are really nice!

* I often use soy sauce instead of salt because the flavor is a little more complex and it mixes in easily.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blackened Salmon

Salmon is a real staple in my house, because we don't eat meat and only rarely eat chicken. For variety's sake I like to make Blackened Salmon. Just be sure that if you want to blacken something, you are prepeared to turn on the fans and open all the windows.

Blackened salmon requires a spice mixthat is sprinkled onto the fish. Then the fish is seared in a very hot pan until blackened.

Actually, I used to cook this outside on a hot plate, because it fills the house with very intense hot pepper aroma, enough to make one cough and eyes water. I would heat the pan up for about 10 minutes on the indoor stove, then carry it outside to the hot plate (or gas burner) to add the fish and finish cooking. I once managed to warp a cast iron frying pan making this dish. Outside is a really good option. Just be sure you can get the pan nice and hot before you start. But wherever you cook this, be careful! The pan is very hot!!!

Blackened Salmon

Salmon steaks or filets (you may use other firm fish steaks)
1 T paprika
1t. salt*
1t onion powder
1t garlic powder
1/4t cayenne
3/4t black pepper
1/2t dried thyme
1/2t. oregano
 1-2 T. olive oil (or melted butter)

Mix the dry spices all together. This is enough for about 8 servings. I keep what I don't use right away in a container for later.

Preheat a cast iron frying pan on medium heat for up to 10 minutes. The pan should be hot enough that a drop of water forms a ball then evaporates instantly when it hits the pan.

Pour the oil onto a plate. Dip the pink side of the salmon into the oil then turn the skin side down onto the plate. Sprinkle the spice mix onto the pink side of the salmon to cover. Do this for each piece. If you are using fish steaks with no skin, treat each side with the spice mix.

Place the fish in the hot pan skin side down. Cook 2-3 minutes and turn. You can usually judge the doneness of the fish from looking at the sides. The light "cooked" color spreads up the side.
Cook on the spiced side for another 2-3 minutes or until it reached the degree of doneness you like.

If you add some fennel to the spice mix, it can be used on steak. It was really tasty, but I don't eat steak anymore.

* You can add up to 1T of salt, but I really do not like food that salty. If you add the extra salt, the spice mix is milder.