28 March 2009

How to Brew Green Tea

Most Americans do not know how to make green tea properly. I just read a book by chefs for chefs called On Cooking, and even they make the same mistake of thinking that you brew black tea, oolong tea, and green tea exactly the same way. Not true!

I lived in Japan. The Japanese taught me the correct way to make green tea, and their green tea is pretty much as tasty as it gets. They taught me that there are three stages to hot water: fish eyes, string of pearls, and rolling boil. If you're boiling a pot of water and there are bubbles that look like fish eyes, that's the first part. String of pearls is when small bubbles start rising one after the other to the top of the surface. The later end of fish eyes and the earlier end of string of pearls is when you want to turn off the heat and pour it over the green tea bag. Alternatively, you can bring tea to a boil, immediately turn off the heat, and then pour the water into 3 different cups before pouring it over your tea bag. Both methods work fine.

I like to use a tea kettle because it's faster than an open pot of water, so what I do is listen. While the water is cold, I don't hear the tea kettle making any noise. But when it's at fish eyes, it starts making a stuttering, breathy sound. I wait until the sound is steady and no longer stuttering, and then I pour the water over my tea bag. It works perfectly.

The next problem with American tea brewers is that they think you brew green tea 1-3 minutes, the same as black tea. That's incorrect as well. Black tea turns black right away but you need to keep brewing it to maximize flavor. With green tea, you can judge whether it's done by the color. I've never had to brew Japanese green tea (sencha, o cha, ban cha, or genmai cha) more than 45 seconds, tops. You want the tea to be a lovely spring green color, a grassy green. Chinese green tea is more complicated because sometimes it needs to be a deep yellow, but this is not the case for Japanese tea. And neither tea should turn brown!

The last misconception Americans have about green tea bags is that you need to throw out the tea bag or tea leaves after you've steeped it once. Actually, green tea tends to taste better the second time it's steeped. You can steep it up to 7 times and still have great flavor.

Green Beans à la Sarah

I made premium quality green beans last night without a recipe. This sort of inspired success is so unusual for me that I thought you might like to share in the magnificent results. No one really ate them because unbeknownst to me everyone had eaten at Anna Liffey's before coming home for Shabbat dinner. Once they realized how superlative my green beans were, they rued their noshing, but TOO LATE. Their bellies were full and thus I have gotten to snack lazily on leftovers all day. I can confirm that even the next day the green beans are still the very most elegant and impressive green beans I have ever made.

Along with the green beans, the rest of the meal that I ate by myself while everyone watched was: leftover Red Lentil Soup, steamed cubed sweet potatoes, sliced red pepper, and Israeli Couscous with Peas and Corn. It all went together quite well. Well done me, making a successful meal at last, just in time for nobody to care.

Green Beans à la Sarah

green beans, ends broken off, washed
white wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, peeled, chopped

Steam green beans until soft but not mushy. I don't like it when they squeak against my teeth; I'd cook it about 2 more minutes. However I have it on the best authority that others really enjoy the tooth-squeaking. Drain and toss immediately with some oil and vinegar. Meanwhile, saute shallot in oil with salt and pepper. When turning golden, remove and put on top of green beans.

27 March 2009

Bento Post Update

Oh no! George reports that my bento box didn't stay together in his bag and all the food got all over his clothes and both were completely ruined. Apparently, I need sturdier rubber bands than the one provided. Good thing I only spent 5 minutes on it!

26 March 2009

My First Bento and Pale Stew

I'm so excited; I just made my first bento lunch for someone! After ogling all the bentos at ILoveObento.com and Just Bento, I finally did it. Thanks to Justine for a lovely bento box (see picture) as a gift this winter. Unfortunately I don't have pictures because George was running out the door to catch a train as I thrust it into his hands, but the food wasn't very attractive in any case—I made it in about 5 minutes flat.
My bento box is two layers. I stuffed the bottom layer with almonds, turkish apricots, raisins, Mary's Gone Crackers (herb flavor), and a wedge of Danish blue cheese. The sealed top layer I filled with leftover Pale Stew, recipe below. I don't have any of those bento box dividers or toothpicks or stamps or anything, so it all sort of jumbled together. That's okay.

My pale stew recipe comes from my friend Heather who got it from one of those enormous vegetarian cookbooks I don't own. Maybe Passionate Vegetarian or Wheel of Life or something like that. I've made it several times, so I was surprised when George said he didn't remember ever having it. When I heard the feedback, I lost my surprise.

Doug: It's edible.
George: It's bland but perfectly pleasant.
Doug: It doesn't taste like anything.
George: It will go well with something flavorful.
Me: My notes say it's much better 2 days later.
Doug: That makes sense.

All I can say is that it's easy, nutritious, and nobody hates it. About how many things can you say that?

Pale Stew

In a soup pot fry several cloves minced garlic in hot oil for 30 seconds. Add 1 14-oz. can diced tomato and 2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and chopped. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Add 2 peeled and chopped zucchinis, 2 15 ounce cans white cannelini beans (drained and rinsed), salt, and 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, chopped. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Serve 2 days later.

25 March 2009

Seitan Paprikàs

George's family is Hungarian-American, with the typical obsession with paprika quality. Upon entering the family I quickly understood that if I wanted to fit in I'd better stick with the official Szeged paprika (Szeged is near where George's grandfather George grew up on a paprika plantation). George's grandfather George also grew and ground his own paprika peppers. If you can get your hands on some fresh paprika at the farmer's market, you can do what we did and put it in the blender. Then make loads of paprikàs, force your friends to help you eat it, and ply them with liquor so they don't complain.

George's family is quite particular about their paprikàs, pronounced paprikash. When I told Grandma Bessie over the phone how George was making it, she immediately protested that one NEVER puts tomato and pepper in. Doug was shocked that George had once made it with heavy cream (it tasted like high-falutin' tomato curry that day). And they were united in disbelief that both George and I prefer it with seitan, or "fake meat," as Doug described it.

However, George once served chicken paprikàs and seitan paprikàs side by side for my mother and me, and the three of us agreed that the seitan version was far far better. Yesterday we served it to Doug and Julia, and in the tradition of Jack Sprat and his wife, they licked their plates clean. Seitan, in case you were wondering, is wheat gluten (pictured above), bane of celiacs. It is a traditional Chinese or Japanese ingredient with other names like fu or mock-duck meat. When pre-marinated, it's juicy and shreds like chicken, and if you've ever had Mock Goose, you've eaten it. Although in my experience meat-eaters are uniformly fond of seitan, you always find it in the supermarket next to the reviled, emasculating tofu.

This recipe is adapted by George from George Lang's The Cuisine of Hungary. George Lang (are all Hungarians named George?) is the foremost authority on real Hungarian food, and his cookbook is more like a cultural encyclopedia than a collection of recipes.

Seitan Paprikàs

1 or 2 medium onions, minced
canola oil
1 lb. pre-marinated seitan, diced
1 large or 2 small tomatoes, diced
1 heaping Tablespoon Pride of Szeged sweet delicacy paprika (seriously)
1 teaspoon salt
2 frying peppers, sliced thinly
2 Tablespoons sour cream or more if you like
1 Tablespoon flour

Use a large heavy pot with a lid.
1. Saute onions in oil on low heat for 5 minutes. They should not be browned.
2. Add seitan and tomato and cook, covered, 10 minutes.
3. Stir in paprika. Add 1/2 cup water and the salt. Cook covered over very low heat for 20 minutes. Continue cooking uncovered 10 minutes.
4. Mix the sour cream, flour, and 1 teaspoon cold water together. Stir into the sauce until it is very smooth.
5. Add frying peppers and adjust salt to taste. Cover again and cook until peppers are soft.

You can serve this over egg dumplings, egg noodles, egg barley, rice, or cauliflower. It's also good by itself.

23 March 2009

Vegan Tacos

I hereby declare my devotion to homestyle inauthentic Mexican cooking. It's fast, it's colorful, and it tastes like party food. But it also tends to throw around shredded cheese like confetti. Some people think eating enormous amounts of cheese is normal—I won't name names, but a Certain Person bought an entire miniature wheel of Brie one week and when it was finished off bought another one the next week. That person's behavior seems like asylum-level insanity to a healthful-eating Puritan like myself. You know who you are, Person.

It's not that I frown upon cheese; I love cheese. If it weren't for cheese, I would go kosher in a flash. But why waste all that fat and salt and carbon footprint and God's Holy Anger on common bland cheese? I like to spend my naughty food points on cheeses like Humboldt Fog, Myzithra, Manchego, Drunken Goat, English Cotswold, Parmeggiano-Reggiano, etc. These are the sort of cheeses that give you a lot of satisfaction for just a little nibble. You feel like a higher class sort of person just for having them in your refrigerator.

Well, I suppose I veered off topic a bit. Back to vegan tacos. These are so delicious that you will forget that you were supposed to put crappy shredded orange cheese on them. And you will feel like you just had a very virtuous, Adonai-approved party.

Vegan Tacos (and gluten-free if you use corn tortillas)

refried vegetarian beans heated up
guacamole (now that we don't live in CA, I use vacuum-packed Haas avacado guacamole)
fresh cilantro
salsa (or hot sauce or both)
spinach or lettuce (optional)
chopped onion (optional)

Heat up tortillas one at a time until soft and toasty in a fry pan. Immediately top with ingredients, eat, and for heaven's sake, try not to make a mess this time.

21 March 2009

Arroz Verde

This particular Puree with Solids is the shiznit, as the saying goes, but more importantly, I learned a valuable lesson from Julia while I made it. I was doubling the recipe and I had to puree a large quantity of herbs and spinach plus broth. Because I have had issues with putting too much stuff into the blender and then having excess liquid explode from it (despite having my hand firmly pushing down the cap), I decided to Take It Slow. I decided to puree half of everything at a time. The first session went really well and it seemed obvious to me that I could simply add the rest of the greens and broth and puree it all together. So I added it all and pureed and then it suddenly hit me that maybe I had just added the greens but NOT the broth. I added 2 more cups of broth, and then I was gripped with terror that I had already added it before. Too much liquid would completely ruin this recipe! I turned to Julia and asked her whether it looked like the blender had 4 cups of liquid plus greens or 6 cups of liquid plus greens. "Well," she said calmly, "why don't you just check the measure marks on the blender?"

I had no idea that the blender doubled as a measuring cup. The marks are not colored but just clear protruding glass, which is how I missed this important detail. It turned out that I had not in fact added too much liquid and the recipe was saved.

This recipe comes from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook and unsurprisingly requires a fuzzy logic rice cooker (I love you Zojirushi!).

Arroz Verde

Serves 4.

2 cloves garlic
1/2 Cup packed Italian flat parsley (stems ok)
1/2 Cup packed cilantro (stems ok)
1 Cup packed spinach
2 Cups broth (I use No Chicken Broth)
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 Cup finely chopped onion
1 Cup long grain white rice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste

1. In a blender, combine stock, garlic, parsley, cilantro, and spinach in blender and liquefy.
2. Set rice cooker on Quick Cook and add oil. When oil is hot add onion and cook 5 minnutes. Add rice and stir occasionally for 10 minutes. Close cover and cook another 5 minutes until toasty.
3. Add puree and remaining ingredients and reset for regular cycle (you will probably have to take the bowl out and let it cool a few minutes first). Stir well. When cycle finishes, steam another 10 minutes.

18 March 2009

Kasha Varnishkes, Food of the Gods

George tells me that technically, "food of the gods" refers to cacao, and I'm not going to argue with that. To be honest, I don't know anyone who feels such overwhelming well-being and comfort from kasha varnishkes as I do. I think my time in Japan and my adoption there of soba noodles as an all-time favorite food really influenced the way I feel about this dish. Also, I was practically raised on pasta, and at my grocery store I found an unusually excellent brand of bow tie noodles, Mantova. Add to all these associations my lifelong habit of adding carmelized onions to sandwiches when I want to be fancy, and you have a trifecta of Sarah-friendly foods.

I got this recipe from Mark Bittman, who got it from his Jewish mother. I didn't try making it until my Jewish mother called me up and told me to. I don't know why I ever waited so long.

You can make this recipe the long stupid way or the short way. The first time I made it the long way, but that's behind me now, and I've blocked it from my memory.

Kasha Varnishkes

1 lb. high quality bow tie pasta or farfalle (I like Mantova)
olive oil
1 Cup kasha (you can find it in the Jewish foods section)
1 egg, beaten, with salt added
2 large onions or 1 elephantine onion, sliced small
2 Cups No-Chicken broth or flavorful vegetable broth

1) First, heat olive oil on low. When fragrant, add onions and start slowly sauteeing. They'll be done when golden brown, oozy and sticky.
2) Put on a medium pot of water to boil for the pasta. Add some salt to raise the boiling point. When it boils, add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain and toss with butter.
3) Mix kasha with egg. Heat a very large pot with a lid. Toast the kasha for 3 minutes until fragrant. Add broth. Cover with lid and turn heat down to low. When all the liquid is absorbed (about 10 to 15 minutes), turn off the heat.
4) Add onions and pasta to kasha. Mix. Adjust salt to taste and serve hot and gorgeous.

17 March 2009

Pad Thai

George found this recipe at ThaiTable.com. It's very authentic, but we don't put in the hot spice because of sensitive stomachs. Once Justine and I found fresh banana flower in Berkeley and used it but it turned out that the banana flower was rotten and we didn't even know because we'd never seen a banana flower before. You can buy pickled banana flowers at the Hong Kong market in New Haven, and if you're the sort of person dying to have some banana flower with your Pad Thai, I would go with bottled and preserved the first time. Personally I lost all taste for banana flower. I posted above a picture of a healthy one just so you have some idea what I'm talking about. It should be white and tender, not black and mushy, on the inside.

In my opinion this recipe just isn't any good without Chinese garlic chives. You can see a picture of one in my post below about Burritos. Chinese garlic chives feel and look sort of like super-long scallions but taste and smell like garlic. They're great. Unfortunately you can only buy them in huge quantities. Just chop them up and wash them and use them in omelettes or burritos or something. Or compost them. Or make a lot of Pad Thai. It was a big hit in the household today; Doug has obviously acquired a serious affinity for tamarind concentrate.

Peanuts make a big difference in the texture of this dish. We didn't have any today and I thought it lacked sophistication without it. It's just hard to find peanuts that aren't oiled, cooked, and salted, and I think those don't go so well with pad thai. Or with my taste buds—they remind me of airplanes.

I think, however, you could successfully get away with leaving out the egg. Then it would be vegan, but everyone would be so distracted by the weird flavors of tamarind and rotting banana flower that they wouldn't ever notice.

Pad Thai

1/2 lime
4 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce (I like Yamasa)
3 cloves garlic, minced
fresh ground pepper, white pepper's also good
1 shallot, minced
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons tamarind concentrate (I like Tamcon)
1/2 package large wide Thai rice noodles
1/2 —1 package medium or firm tofu, drained and cubed or julienned
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 banana flower
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon ground dried chili pepper
1 1/2 Cup Chinese green garlic chives, cut into 1 inch lengths
2 Tablespoons peanuts (unsalted, unroasted)
1 1/3 Cup bean sprouts
1 Tablespoon preserved turnip (I don't really know what this is)

1. Break noodles in half and place them in a heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water over them to cover and let them sit until almost tender. Drain.
2. Toast peanuts and remove. In a wide frypan saute shallot, garlic, and tofu until brown. Add tamarind, sugar, soy sauce, chili pepper, and turnip. Add noodles. Stir. Push noodles to the side and crack and into the empty space. Scramble it and fold into noodles. Add Chinese chives and half of bean sprouts. Stir a few more times. Noodles should be soft and tangled.
3. Serve sprinkled with peanuts, banana flower sliced lengthwise and rubbed with citrus juice, wedges of lime, and raw bean sprouts.

16 March 2009

How to Store Fresh Herbs

The short answer is in a bag in the refrigerator and use them quickly.

The long answer is that if you don't have a cat or culinarily curious sort of pet, you can make your herbs last longer and have them double as a sort of cheap bouquet. All you do is fill a short glass with some water, take off any nasty brown or yellow leaves, and plunk the herbs in your "vase." Set the glass on your table in some sunlight. If the water gets cloudy change it for some cleaner water. Don't let leaves get into the water.

This method works beautifully for parsley, mint, and I think basil but NOT cilantro. As I learned to my sorrow (so frequently that I wonder now that I didn't realize this at once), cilantro must stay dry in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. The exception to this rule is that you can first de-stem the cilantro (and save the stems for stock or cooking dried beans), wash the leaves, dry them, and then reseal them in a Ziploc bag.

Red Lentil Soup

For years I believed that this recipe originated in Gil Marks' Olive Trees and Honey, a cookbook of traditional Jewish vegetarian recipes from around the world. But today I was leafing through Julia's copy and I realized that the only reason I had this misconception is because Olive Trees contains about 9 different red lentil soup recipes—that is to say 9 more red lentil soup recipes than can be found in any other cookbook. This recipe isn't one of those. Upon further research I have discovered that this recipe—which by the way is George's No. 1 most requested soup—was adapted from the October 2006 Vegetarian Times issue. So now you know that in addition to being a mediocre chef, I also wear the hat of a mediocre sleuth. Good thing I read all those Nancy Drew mysteries!

Some useful facts about tamarind concentrate: 1) It lasts forever in the refrigerator 2) Doug thinks that by the spoonful it's almost as good as chocolate 3) It's cheapest and best from an Indian or Asian grocer 4) I like the Tamcon brand with the red screw-on cap.

Red Lentil Soup

1 Cup red lentils / masoor dal
1 teaspoon salt
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 knob peeled and sliced ginger, about as big as half a thumb
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 ounce can coconut milk (the best kind has Thai lettering on it)
1 Tablespoon tamarind concentrate
1 Tablespoon dried coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric (don't get this on your clothes!)
fresh cilantro for garnish

1. Combine lentils, 5 Cups water, and salt in a pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer 20 to 25 minutes or until tender.
2. Purée tomatoes and ginger. Set aside.
3. Purée lentils and water. Set aside.
4. In a larger pot, fry the garlic in the oil for 30 seconds until golden brown and fragrant. Add tomato mixture, coconut milk, tamarind, coriander, cumin, and turmeric. Simmer 15 minutes.
5. Add lentils. Simmer a little. Add fresh ground pepper if you like and cilantro.

15 March 2009


George makes hands down the best pastries and cookies I have ever had. As he is of Hungarian heritage, many of George's pastries are from George Lang's Hungarian cookbook and contain a cow's worth of butter. He devises his recipes by reading several Internet sources and cookbooks and then figuring out in his head the best version. He never goofs up. How lucky am I that every Purim George makes the traditional Purim cookie, hamantaschen. Hamantaschen are named after the Purim villain, Haman, and they are supposed to represent variously his three-cornered hat, his ears, or his pockets. When I was in Hebrew school we filled them with jam and/or chocolate, vanilla, or peanut butter chips. George's are filled with lekvar, a Hungarian fruit filling that we have found is also delicious in mandelbroit, a rolled Ashkenazi biscotti-type cookie.

George says he may have adapted the recipe for the dough from the Joy of Cooking. We don't have one here so we weren't able to check. Make the lekvar the day before you make the dough.

1 lb. prunes or dried apricots
2/3 C. — 1 C. water
juice of 1 lemon
2/3 C. brown sugar

Cook fruit with water and lemon juice until it's a thick, mushy texture. You have to mash the fruit as you go. Turn off the heat and mix in the brown sugar. If you want, briefly run it through the food processor to smooth out the texture and get rid of any lumps of fruit. Chill.

1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/2 Cups of sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of sifted baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

With an electric mixer, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in the rest of the ingredients. Chill the dough 3 to 4 hours. On a floured board, roll out the dough to 1/8th inch thickness. Cut into 2 inch rounds. Place 1 teaspoon of lekvar in the center of each round. Bring the edges together and pinch to form a triangle. Bake 10 to 12 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

12 March 2009


Burritos are challenging to screw up, which is one reason that I love them. The most basic burritos are simply beans, rice, and salsa mixed up in a tortilla, but you can get pretty fancy without much effort. The ones I prepared this evening (that no one has eaten because for some reason no one is home by 8:40 p.m.), are simply a line of bowl with various optional fillings. People can also choose whether to have flour tortillas or smaller corn tortillas. Flour tortillas are tricky because most of them have partially hydrogenated oil in them, which is quite awful for your body, but I found some without that. For fillings, and some of them are weird, I'll grant you that, I have:
  • cubed tofu sauteed in broth with turmeric (I like the yellow color)
  • drained and rinsed canned kidney beans
  • guacamole
  • salsa
  • cilantro
  • Chinese garlic chives (picked up at the Hong Kong grocery)
  • brown rice sauteed with broth, onion, garlic, cumin, and Chinese chives
This is actually quite healthy, and depending on how many fillings you prepare, you can mix and match for days. To make it gluten-free, just use corn tortillas. I had a burrito with all the fillings, and I'll admit that the Chinese chives were a little strong (picture above). I hope other people like it.

11 March 2009

Homemade Applesauce

My friend Justine, who is a cooking fiend, is cutting back. She is the kind of person who can whip up scones without a recipe and bake them without a clock or timer, just by "feel." She can confidently make pretty much anything in any cuisine and not take too much time about it. At least, that's my impression. Furthermore, she was raised in Santa Cruz and is practically half hippie because of it. So I was surprised to find that she was so tired and pressed for time that she and her boyfriend Mario have decided to have peanut butter sandwiches, scrambled eggs, or canned soup for dinner for a while. We all know how she feels. We have all been in that place. So I am posting this recipe for all the Justines out there. This recipe is home cooking at its best. It fills the house with unbelievably comforting aromas, it's cheap, it's healthy, it takes about a minute to clean up, it looks like sludge and it tastes like candy. And it's really quick.

I don't know where I got this recipe from in 1999. I'm sorry if it's yours and I am not citing your work.

4 or 5 cooking applies, like Cortland or Stayman
1/2 C. apple cider or juice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 pinch nutmeg
NO SUGAR (or you'll get a cavity instantly)

Peel apples. Chop very roughly. Meanwhile, heat up all other ingredients in a wide fry pan or saucepan. Swirl to combine. When the liquid is simmering, add apples. Simmer, stirring once every five minutes, until it's easy to mash apple pieces with a wooden spoon. You are allowed to forget about it for a while and do something else because it won't burn and it won't stick. Serve warm or room temperature.

This recipe is made insanely fast by the use of the ingenious device pictured above. It is called an Apple Peeler Corer Slicer, and that is exactly what it does. This is a good way to get gear-heads into the kitchen.

I have a philosophy of cooking implements. Maybe you are cheap and won't buy anything more than you absolutely need. But sometimes the addition of a special tool or two makes cooking something healthy so much faster and easier that it markedly improves your diet. My rice cooker is a case in point. It costs over $100 and is big but I think it's worth it. Doug does not cook anything because he thinks cooking's too hard and not worthwhile, but even he uses a rice cooker every day to make perfect, hands-off rice. He eats brown rice for breakfast and dinner, and he's lost a lot of weight and feels better. Now nobody bought this apple peeler corer slicer, Doug just got it from his best friend when his best friend still thought he might cook stuff sometimes. But because of it we can eat something healthy and warming for breakfast, dinner, and dessert in the winter and we do, often. I think that's a good thing.

Also it looks cool.

10 March 2009

Lentil Walnut Burgers

Tonight I made Mollie Katzen's lentil walnut burgers without a food processor. This meant that it took approximately a half hour longer to make than last time because I am not quick at mincing everything by hand. Also, I had to weep frequently over the onions. As always, lentil walnut burgers are much softer and mushier than ground beef or commercial vegetarian burgers, but if you're expecting that textural difference, they're a real treat.

Changes I made to Mollie's recipe: no spinach, no dry mustard, added more water to the lentils because they ran out of moisture before they were done, and I chose the rolled oats version. I froze the burgers for an hour instead of refrigerating them. They were still sort of warm but who cares? I served the patties with whole wheat kaiser buns, tomato, lettuce, mayo, and Dijon mustard (which is so pretty!). George added a slice of double gloucester cheese. If you want them gluten-free you need to use GF oats and GF bread. Mollie Katzen said it made 4 to 6 but it made 9 for us. The whole process took me about 2 and a half hours. I don't think it's supposed to take so long.

My biggest problem was that I couldn't form proper patties. They ended up like a cross between a matzoh ball and a samosa. I have this problem making onigiri too! Luckily, George the sculptor caught this in time and reshaped them properly. He also panfried them properly. You want to make the patties smaller than the buns you use because they smush down, especially if you are an aggressive biter like Doug. These are much better than Boca or Garden burgers! Of course, Quorn is a whole 'nother category…

08 March 2009

How to Defrost Peas Without Cooking 'Em

Mark Bittman's idea. Put frozen peas in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes.

How to Wash Leaves

First discard outer damaged leaves. Then while all the leaves are still attached to each other, tear or cut them up roughly. Put them in a big bowl of cold water. Rub the leaves against each other. Wait a minute for grit to settle to the bottom. Pull the leaves out and put in another bowl or collander. Pour out dirty water. Repeat once or twice. Put leaves in salad spinner and spin vigorously for thirty seconds. You now have clean greens.

How to Drain Tofu

Buy only tofu packed in water. I think medium or firm tend to be best quality in general for almost anything in which the tofu ought to retain its shape.

  1. Drain liquid from tofu package.
  2. Put tofu on a plate.
  3. Put another plate on top of tofu.
  4. Place a heavy object like a can of beans or a bottle of juice on top of the upper plate.
  5. Wait a few minutes, two's probably enough.
  6. Drain out liquid.
  7. Turn plates over.
  8. Place heavy object on top.
  9. Wait a few minutes.
  10. Drain out liquid.
I think people who are patting their tofu dry with paper towels or draining it for a half hour are going beyond the call of duty. If you want to drain even more liquid from your tofu, you can always halve the thickness of the block of tofu before you begin pressing it.

Puree with Solids

Tonight we had another one of those Puree cooked with Solids meals, Chana Dal being the first one I posted on the blog. This entree was from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, as so many of our meals are. It involved a can of diced tomato plus raw onion pureed in a blender then cooked with curry powder. Near the end you add cubed tofu and peas and top with a garnish of cilantro. I've already mentioned the easy way of draining tofu, but I learned a new technique from Mark Bittman today: how to defrost frozen peas without cooking them. You simply put them in a bowl of cold water and wait a few minutes. How ingenious is that?!

The meal came out really well because George's cousin Lizzie cooked it. Meanwhile I made rice, steamed a head of cauliflower, and washed dishes. Surprisingly George wasn't into this dish, possibly because a few hours earlier he had eaten a large ham and cheese sandwich. George's dad Doug happily ate George's leftovers, so everyone was happy.

06 March 2009

Cooking with Beer

Last night in preparation for Shabbat I starting cooking heavily. The featured ingredient in this month's Vegetarian Times magazine was beer, so I tried two different beer recipes. Beer is one of those ingredients that people frequently have hanging around, especially the cheap kind that someone brought over for a party and no one wants to drink later. We still had beer left over from SuperBowl Sunday, cheap Michelob Lite beer. One of the recipes called for dark ale, however, so George went to the discount store and bought a pack of four bottles of fancy stuff so that people would feel like drinking the leftovers.

The thing about beer is that it's bitter, especially the dark kind. My first recipe, Black Bean Chili with Dark Ale, was a disaster (in that I liked it but 3 other people found it horrible). It combined the bitterness of 2 bottles of dark ale with the extreme spiciness of 2 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (which took 3 people at Stop & Shop to find). Too harsh for most American palates.

The second recipe, Tempeh with Mushroom-Lager Sauce, is much gentler. I used a cheap lite beer and subsituted 1 Cup of water plus 1 Tbsp. honey (they called for agave nectar but only hippies use that! Sorry, Berkeley, CA) for 1 Cup of beer. This had a much better balance of flavors and the 2 T. of Dijon mustard were tangy instead of overwhelming and harsh. I think it's a keeper. If you wait a few months you can get these recipes online at VT's website.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Homemade vegetable stock is super easy, so easy that a goofus like me can relax and enjoy making it without any mishaps. Some people saute the onions and garlic before adding the water and the rest of the vegetables, but it's also quite nice without that extra, not-so-healthy step. Just fill a big pot 3/4 of the way with water, and add all the not-so-nice odds and ends hanging around the kitchen. If you're a vegetarian like me, you probably tend to have plenty of scraps for boiling—just make sure everything is thoroughly washed. Then bring it all to a boil and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Strain out the solids and you're done. If you have onion, celery, and carrot, you can be assured your stock will be great.

Ingredients I like putting in my stock:
  • apple (a touch of sweetness adds balance to flavor)
  • mushroom stems
  • dried mushrooms
  • onion
  • celery
  • carrot
  • potato, peeled
  • fresh herbs like parsley
  • soy sauce
  • alcohol, a touch
  • 1 Cup brown lentils, only for a very rich stock (good substitute for beef broth)
  • garlic, smashed with the flat of a knife
  • ginger, peeled
  • leek greens
  • scallion greens
  • carrot leaves
  • Parmesan cheese rind (I actually haven't done this yet, but it's a traditional Italian thing to do according to Under the Tuscan Sun)
The only things you want to be careful about are acidic vegetables like broccoli and tomatoes, however, many people think those are fine too.

If you run out of soup recipes in which to use your broth, just mix in a few tablespoons of miso paste (it keeps in the refridgerator forever) and voila! you have a pretty fabulous soup that you could serve to company.

05 March 2009

Tapioca Pudding

A lot of recipes for tapioca pudding seem to involve one folding egg whites in, but I've never had tapioca that way and I think it's perfect just the way it is. I like to use Large Pearl because I like chewing on the balls—I got that from Bobo Tea—but if you want more of a seamless texture, go for Small Pearl.

Yesterday was the first time I made tapioca in a double boiler instead of in the rice cooker. I really like the tapioca pudding recipe from the Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, and there's no stirring involved, but I always end up having to clean dried egg goop out of the tiny vents with a brush for a half hour, and that's no fun. So instead I used the recipe on back of my box of Island Large Tapioca Pearls, with a few changes, of course.

1/2 Cup tapioca
3 Cups milk - I used skim, that's fine
1/4 tsp. Salt
2 Eggs well beaten
1/2 C. sugar- I used only 3/8 C. sugar because George told me he cuts a fourth of the sugar out of most recipes, and that was a good decision
1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract

Soak tapioca 24 hours in 1 Cup milk in the fridge. Drain. In a double boiler, add 2 C. milk, tapioca, eggs, salt, sugar, and vanilla. Cook 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to stand 10 minutes. Eat right away or chill.

Of course, I decided to talk to my mother on the phone while stirring in hopes that the stirring would decrease stress, and what happened was that about ten minutes into my stirring, I realized that I had forgotten to add the tapioca. George shook his head and said what a funny person you are! What happens if you overcook the rest of the ingredients is that the texture goes all mealy. So we had a mealy texture that tasted good with some delightfully chewy tapioca balls.

04 March 2009

Potato Gnocchi

I thought this was going to be really good, but it wasn't. I had already made sweet potato gnocchi and kabocha gnocchi, and both of those were excellent. This tasted like mashed potato balls, period. Also George made a sauce for it which was just awful, although he liked it. Mark Bittman says potato gnocchi should be ethereal, light, and fluffy, but both George and I like it dense and chewy. Following Bittman's instructions, I barely added any flour, and my gnocchi was way too ethereal. This was part of the problem. The other problem is that potatoes don't really taste much like anything, and even less so when twice cooked. And sardine sauce is not the answer! So instead I am going to reiterate the best way to cook and dress sweet potato or squash gnocchi which are prettier than potatoes anyway.

Some sweet potatoes or squash, peeled, cubed, steamed, and mashed with a fork*
all-purpose flour
freshly grated Paramgiano-Regianno
sliced scallions

*if you do the mashing and kneading in a large glass bowl instead of the counter, it will be a lot easier in the long run I've found

1. Bring a really big pot of salted water to boil
2. Meanwhile, mix sweet potatoes with flour. Probably a few cups, until it all holds together and doesn't stick to your hands so much.
3. Knead dough a minute or two.
4. Pinch off a small piece, roll into a ball, and throw into the rolling water. If the dough holds together, you're copacetic.
5. Tear off large sections of the dough and roll like Play-Doh into long thin sausages. Pinch off small pieces of this and roll into balls. Drop into water. As soon as the balls rise to the surface of the water, they are done.
6. Top with cheese and a few scallions and serve while steaming hot.

Pasta Sauce a la George plus Salad a la Julia

George always comes up with really delicious pasta sauce. We've been scrounging around in our pantry lately because everyone's too lazy to go to the grocery store. George combined the following ingredients and then let it simmer in a cast iron fry pan for about a half hour:

1 can cheap beer
a small bag of dried porcini mushrooms with their soaking liquid
1 can tomato paste
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
a ton of dried basil
sauteed onion and garlic
kosher salt
extra virgin olive oil
(we didn't have bell peppers but he says that would make it better)

We served it with freshly grated Parmagiano Romano. Lately we've really been enjoying whole wheat elbow macaroni. It was not his best pasta sauce, but it sure wasn't difficult to make and much better than store bought stuff.

George's mother Julia made her favorite salad (she ALWAYS make this):
romaine lettuce
sliced scallions
gorgonzola or goat cheese
toasted walnuts
vinaigrette (she prefers aged balsamic vinegar but George and I like white wine vinegar. We use extra virgin olive oil)
Mix together and serve.

If you find it a pain to make salad because you hate washing leaves, let me inform you of a very quick way I learned from George's Aunt Gwen. First discard outer damaged leaves. Then while all the leaves are still attached to each other, tear or cut them up roughly. Put them in a big bowl of cold water. Rub the leaves against each other. Wait a minute for grit to settle to the bottom. Pull the leaves out and put in another bowl or collander. Pour out dirty water. Repeat once or twice. Put leaves in salad spinner and spin vigorously for thirty seconds. You now have clean greens.
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