Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vegan MoFo III

Get ready, readers.
October is the Vegan Month of Food, a.k.a. Vegan MoFo. That means that I'll do my very best to blog every day in October- and so will over 300 other bloggers!

Want more info? Visit Kittee's blog for the details and the full list of blogs with links. Or check out the "blogroll" here.

Hopefully I can live up to the challenge- I've participated every year and usually get about 28 out of the 31 days. Look at the "Vegan MoFo 200X" tags to read past years' posts if you're so excited that you can't wait until tomorrow.

I can't wait to read all those great posts from everyone!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ten Years

Well, I officially have been in Minnesota for 10 years. Technically, it's about 10 years and a month, but who's counting?

I just got home from my 10 year high school reunion in Garland, TX.

My best friends from high school- April, Brandon, (me), Jennifer

It was a fast-paced trip because I tried to pack seeing my mom, dad and brother at their respective houses, grandparents, and friends. I did make sure to visit my favorite restaurants, though. I ate chips, salsa and guacamole at least once per day for each of the 5 days.

I always eat out way too much on these trips and feel like I need a detox when I get home. My stepmom did make a super delicious meal of brown rice, white beans cooked with sage, and rosemary roasted vegetables that made up for some of the lost nutrition in the chip-laden meals, though!

The best meal of the trip by far was the homemade Thai that my friends Ashlie and John made.

Eggless Egg Rolls! Super crisp and filled with mushrooms and cabbage!

Probably the best Pad Thai I've ever had. Includes fried tofu, homegrown mung bean sprouts, and hand-pureed tamarind paste!

Potato and Sweet Potato Massaman Curry. We're talking homemade curry paste here, folks.

Fish balls. A little scary because they're so fishy, but pretty amazing! They need a better name, though!

The recipes are from Real Vegetarian Thai by Nanci McDermott. My next stop is to the library to see if they have it!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

For real, America?

I just got two half-pints of jam confiscated by the feds.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. No Door County Cherry Vanilla Jam or MN Concord Grape Jam for you until Christmas. I thought that their super solid texture would qualify them as solids to airport security, but alas, they are gels. Placed in the same category as toothpaste.

Here's what I think: Local, organic, and homemade foods are gonna save this fast food nation, not what's gonna take it down. Lay off my jam.

Whew. I'm feelin' kinda feisty this mornin. Good thing I didn't tell the nice officer that I thought jam could change the world. They'd have locked me up for sure.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, September 21, 2009


You know what gets on my nerves? When foods aren't quite what they seem.

For example, take cinnamon.
What most of us use as "cinnamon" is really Cinnamomum cassia rather than Cinnamomum zeylanicum, or true cinnamon. C.cassia is less expensive and far more common than true cinnamon and is stronger in flavor. But it bothers me that it's called cinnamon. Sure, they share a common genus, but they are different species. Think that doesn't make a big difference? Well, think about the difference between weed and hemp- same genus, different species. Or the difference between a Jungle cat and a sweet little house kitten.

Then there are currants.
When sold fresh, currants are really currants. But when dried, you'll usually be buying "zante currants" which are actually just little grapes dried. The twist is that the little grapes claimed the name "currants" first! So I'm not sure which name is really correct.

And yams.
Unless you're reading this in South America or Africa, you probably don't really have any yams in your supermarket. What we call yams in the South, the orange fleshed sweet and starchy tubers, are really just another variety of sweet potato. You'll know the difference because true yams have a dark skin and can be about 7 feet long!

And tea.
A tea is only a tea if it's from the camillia sinensis plant. Black tea, green tea and white tea all qualify. But "red tea" is really a whole different plant and should be called rooibos. "Herbal teas" are herbal tisanes or infusions.

I'm sure there are plenty more examples of this type thing in the food supply. Things I'll think of as soon as I post this.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My New Mother

Don't worry, Mom. Or Stepmom.

A coworker and partner in canning from the co-op just gave me some "mother" from her red wine vinegar, so I finally get to give making vinegar a try!

Pretty, huh? And pretty creepy. The "mother" is the cellulose and bacteria that transform wine (or cider or any alcohol) into vinegar. I should have homemade vinegar by Christmas! I'll keep you all posted about the process. Right now it's just organic red wine and the mother, hanging out in a bowl covered in a dishtowel.

This evening I made up a nice little plate for my early dinner (as opposed to the late dinner that I'll eat when Mike gets home from work).

From the top, clockwise: Pickled Beets, fresh basil, Dr. Kracker crackers, olives marinated in chilies, walnuts toasted with alder-smoked salt, and Tofutti cream cheese mixed with dried tomatoes in olive oil, chives, and lemon thyme.

It was pretty much a platter of appetizers that I ate by myself. Yum!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Eat this.

I try not to buy too many packaged convenience foods, but it's really hard to resist frozen vegan ravioli when it goes on sale. Tonight I picked up the Rising Moon creamy artichoke and olive flavor. It made a super awesome dinner for me with leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

The sauce on the ravioli is just onions sauteed in Earth Balance with cremini mushrooms, olives marinated in hot chiles, and garlic.

The salad is local red leaf with toasted walnuts and the pickled beets from the Fourth of July and a lemon-flax oil vinaigrette.

For real, this dinner took about 20 minutes to make and tasted all fancy schmancy. Perfect for a lazy night of watching The Office and It's Always Sunny in Philedelphia. Everyone should make this.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dream Salsa

I have a love/hate relationship with canned salsas. I mean, mostly I love any salsa. But when it comes to stockpiling 17 pints in my cupboard, I want to REALLY love the salsa.

And because salsas need to be acidified with vinegar and/or lemon juice in order to be safe for boiling water bath canning, the recipes for canned salsas tend to be either very vinegary tasting or doused with sugar to counteract the vinegar. And you CAN'T just change the vinegar ratio in the recipe, so don't go getting any ideas!

But I've finally found 3 recipes that I really enjoy! The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is filled with tasty sounding salsa recipes, but I can now say for certain that the Tomatillo Salsa, Chipotle Roasted Tomato Salsa and Spicy Tomato Salsa are all stellar.

On the left is the chipotle salsa- it includes pureed dried chiles and roasted tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic. The spicy tomato salsa is on the right. It has 3 layers of heat: pureed ancho chiles, fresh jalapenos and red chile flakes.

Here they are! We had a bit of extra salsa from each batch that wouldn't fit into the jars- Darn! We were forced to have a salsa smorgasbord that night :)

I really want to share the Spicy Tomato Salsa recipe with you all. I think Ball won't mind since it will surely convince all of you to go out and buy this cookbook, but I'll take it down if they want me to.

Spicy Tomato Salsa from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Makes 6 pint jars
9 dried chili peppers (I used Anchos)
Hot water
12 cups diced, cored, peeled tomatoes
3 cups chopped red onions
1 1/2 cup tightly packed finely chopped cilantro
15 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
3/4 cup red wine vinegar (5% acidity)
1 Tbsp. salt
3/4 tsp. hot pepper flakes

1. Combine dried chili peppers with hot water to cover. Weigh chilies down to ensure they are submerged and soak about 15 min or until softened. Drain off 1/2 the water and puree in a blender or food processor.

2. Meanwhile, prepare boiling water bath canner, jars, and lids. ( is good for instructions)

3. In a saucepan combine chili puree, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic, jalapenos, vinegar, salt, and hot pepper flakes. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat an boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 10 min.

4. Ladle hot salsa into hot, clean jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding more hot salsa. Wipe rim of jars clean. Center warmed lid on jar and screw bad down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

5. Place jars in canner, ensuring hey are completely covered with water by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil and process jars for 15 minutes. Remove caner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Gallery of meals

Shameful! No blog post in a week!
Here are my excuses, in no particular order:
  • My stepsons are back in school, with all that entails.
  • I taught 3 canning classes last week
  • I haven't done much cooking really
So here's a few of the things I have eaten in the last week or two... I'll blog about salsa canning tomorrow!

Blackberries and borage flowers from the garden. The blackberries have been fat this year!

Tonight: polenta cakes with a quick ratatouille and baked tofu on top. Gotta use up that basil!

Tomato "au jous". I'm calling it that because I dipped my sandwich in it and it was freakin' amazing. Fake ham sandwich with lots of Veganaise on baguette, soaked in tomato/basil/garlic juices.

Baked seitan in the style of SusanV's "ribz" and smothered in a thrown together barbecue sauce. Served over a finely chopped garden kale salad with cherry tomatoes and homemade ranch. Hell yes.

Apple, kale, parsley, mint, ginger, lemon juice. Yum! So green and refreshing!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Drying Herbs

I've been drying herbs for years by just hanging them in my house or on the deck. But this year I broke down and purchased a dehydrator for drying other garden goodies, so I figured I'd give it a try for herbs, too.

This is a Nesco Gardenmaster dehydrator and I'm pretty fond of it. I scored it off of Craig's list for a darn good price. So far I've dried a TON of parsley (okay, maybe not a ton. But after drying and stuffing into a jar, it was a quart!), lemon verbena, sage, epazote, oregano, and basil. Next up are mint, apple mint, rosemary and lemon balm.

The herbs certainly dry quickly in this thing- but not always in the 1-3 hours listed in the booklet. My basil took overnight to dry. Clearly less time than air-drying it, but I found myself getting impatient just the same. And it's kinda loud. When this thing is running I have a hard time hearing much else from the TV besides the loud techno music on my beloved CSI.

I like to store my herbs in glass canning jars because, you know, I have millions of them. But resealable baggies work well, too. The key is to keep air in and moisture out.

The interesting thing about drying as preservation is that it doesn't actually kill any bacteria, mold, or anything. The preservation is possible because all these nasty bugs require moisture to live. By taking away the moisture, the bacteria (etc.) can't multiply. So if you're interested in killing any insect eggs (gross thought, but they're there, folks), you can either put them in the oven at 160 F for 30 minutes or in the freezer at 0 F for 2 days. I prefer the freezer method because my oven doesn't go that low and I hate to cook the herbs I so carefully dried- And both these methods are preferable to the irradiation that most non-organic herbs undergo!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hot & Spicy!

As much as I LOVE pickled jalapenos (escabeche), my favorite way to preserve chiles is to dry them. Crushed dried red chiles are super versatile: They can spice up Indian food, salsas, pickles, nearly anything. And if you dry enough of them, they'll last all year!

I picked up 2 bags of chiles at the farmer's market last weekend for about $7. Here's how to dry them as ristas:

  • Rinse your chiles before doing anything- you won't be able to wash them after they are dry.
  • Pat the chiles dry of surface moisture.
  • Get a sewing needle and strong thread- I like carpet thread.
  • Draw the needle and thread through the thick part of the stem on one chile- Then tie a knot so that the thread will stay securely in place- this is the bottom of your ristra.
  • Continue to send your needle through the thickest part of the stem on your chiles, allowing them to stack up the thread.
  • Continue until all chiles are strung. I like to end the ristra by tying the thread to a paper clip.
  • Hook the paper clip to a curtain rod on a sunny window or another warm place with great ventilation.
  • Let the chiles dry until crisp- then place in an air tight container.
  • Check the chiles during the first 12 hours of storage- if any moisture appears inside the container, then the chiles aren't dry yet and you need to set them out in the air or an oven on the lowest temperature.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's Over.

The Eat Local Challenge is over. And what did I eat on the first day that I hadn't pledged to my Co-op to eat locally?

Tomatoes and basil from the garden. Locally baked French bread. Beans from a local farm. Biscuits made from local flour and homemade jam.

This is pretty remarkable considering that about a week into the challenge I was planning how many avocados I would buy on September 1! This challenge was more challenging for me than past years with unexpected travels and an awful cold interfering. But once I got back on track, it wasn't too hard to at least meet the 50% level. And some days the only non-local foods I enjoyed were a bit of Hawaiian pink salt and a slice of vegan mozzarella.

But what I'm really trying to say here is that eating locally can be a routine. It can be totally normal. So normal that you can actually forget that it's only a one-month challenge and make it part of your everyday life.

That said, I did pick up an avocado tonight. But I ate it with homemade salsa verde (garden tomatillos) and local corn tortilla chips. The main dish was a layered casserole of locally made corn tortillas, homemade refried beans (locally grown beans), garden tomatoes, salsa verde and a bit of Vegan Gourmet cheeze.

It took all of about 20 minutes to assemble this rockin' meal. You can do this, too.