When COVID-19 hit, we signed up for the CSA of one of our favorite Campbell market vendors, Spade & Plow in San Martin, Calif. And they asked me to do a guest post on their blog in exchange for some really beautiful extra veggies they wanted to highlight: spring shallots, radicchio, squash blossoms, and summer squash. I really enjoyed it, and you can read about it here:
Or noochy, if you’ll forgive the terrible joke. “MoFo was the friends we made along the way” just makes me think of The Good Place. Everything else is a giant cliche? Not that I’m above a cliche.
Anyway, for today, the last day of Vegan MoFo 2019, we’re to reflect and maybe take inspiration from another MoFo’er. I have loved following everyone’s creative contributions over on the ‘gram and in the blogs. Some folks’ commitment to a theme was wildly impressive indeed (Star Wars puns? Dishes found in Adventure Time? Dang), and everyone made at least one thing that’s going to stick in my mind as something I need to revisit and try sometime.
But for today…I attempted something that will never live up to its inspiration, but was nonetheless worth a try: biscuits. Specifically, the biscuits Sarra makes with the obvious skill of someone who’s been making biscuits for a while. So flaky! So much rise! So many reasons to keep a watchful eye on her Instagram for any announcements concerning a biscuit zine she may be writing right now!
Well, anyway, they worked well enough as the starchy component for a pretty simple dinner: smoky baked tofu, garlic braised kale, and a warm and tangy tomato relish.
Oh, the sauce? The sauce was good. That is a thing I am good at. It’s not a recipe, though. Just, like… half a big red onion, sliced into quarter moons and fried in a bunch of olive oil for a few minutes before adding several (four?) dry-farmed tomatoes, which I’d cut into wedges. That cooked down with a little salt, a spoonful of brown sugar, and, later on, red pepper flakes. After letting the liquid cook down (tomatoes release a LOT of liquid), I left it on low and added some hot sauce and several spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar. Just keep tasting and going with your gut, really. It’s quite good, I think.
Anyway, I don’t usually bother with the blog posting, though I might sometimes when I have more to say than what fits on an Instagram post. Follow me over there if you want to keep up. I’ll follow back most of the time (unless you’re obviously just selling something/content aggregating, or post mostly weird diet shit, or are a private account of someone I don’t know at all). See you for Vegan MoFo 2020!
I never know what to consider my “favorite city.” I have places I’ve been, places I’ve lived, that I love for a variety of reasons, personal, historical, experiential, or even aspirational. So asking me cook something inspired by a favorite city, after a week full of travel-related cooking, is tricky. That’s why I kept it simple, drawing from memories of living in Seattle for undergrad. Four short years, sure, but influential ones.
And, unfortunately, not well-documented ones, for me, at least as far as easy digital photography. iPods were still new, you know? My Nokia’s fanciest feature was the game Snake. I might’ve had a digital point & shoot, but where were those ever backed up? It’s gone forever, I guess.
The food scene in the neighborhood surrounding the University of Washington at the time heavily favored two things: Thai food, and teriyaki joints. If you didn’t have a favorite Thai place or opinion about the side salads on teriyaki chicken plates at numerous places along the Ave, did you even go here? And I surely did, but I also worked part-time at the university’s Health Sciences complex down on the water. It was just a little too far to grab Thai or teriyaki for lunch, and who hates themselves enough to eat at a hospital cafeteria when they don’t have to? Because there was Agua Verde about two blocks away, serving perfectly prepared fish tacos for a price that felt indulgently expensive and yet worth every penny.
Well, my tribute isn’t really there, but I started from a good place: instead of beer-battered catfish with avocado crema and cabbage, I did beer-marinated baked cauliflower with cashew crema and lime-marinated cabbage. (Ripe avocados were not to be found in my kitchen the day I made these, sadly.)
I don’t remember chips and salsa being part of the deal, at least not at the lunchtime to-go window, but it’s tomato season here and I wanted a nice batch of salsa cruda to go with my tacos.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to stay at the Stanford Inn in Mendocino a few times, and while there’s plenty to recommend it, the breakfasts at Ravens are a major selling point for me. It’s a 100% vegan place, and they offer a wide variety of options both savory and sweet. When I make an elaborate breakfast at home, I am basically always trying to recreate the memory of these breakfasts, sans lovely view and fog. My latest trip was with my partner, who hadn’t been before.
The first morning, I ordered the florentine with braised tempeh and roasted potatoes. So yummy. A good, filling meal before heading out to paddle up the river a bit in a canoe.
On the second morning, I tried the chickpea crepe with avocado chimichurri and garden vegetables with a side of sweet potatoes. The crepe itself was almost rava dosa-like, which I enjoyed. Once again, a solid way to power up for a morning full of short hikes in the forest and around a lighthouse.
On the last day, I got French toast, but I shoved that in my mouth so quickly I forgot to take a picture at all.
What I’m trying to say is, be jealous. And if you can manage it, go see for yourself. (‘Cause it ain’t cheap. Yeesh.)
Last week I shared a few of my favorite homemade summer beverages. Honestly, as a (mostly) non-drinker and someone who isn’t particularly keen on sweet drinks, I don’t seek out mocktails etc. very often, but I do occasionally like to play with combining more ingredients and flavors in my fizzy waters.
They don’t look like much. Sure, I could dress it up with a grapefruit wedge and herb sprigs, or even a little sugar on the rim, but why?
Recently I had a ‘ginger ale’ at Cafe Gratitude in Santa Cruz, which is basically a glassful of fresh-pressed ginger juice with agave, a splash of club soda, and lemon. It’s strong. It’s gingery. And I don’t have a juice press, but I do have a high-speed blender, so I threw a knob of fresh ginger in there with the juice of one grapefruit and enough water to fill my sodamaker’s bottle. Blended until very smooth–and a peculiar shade of yellow from the ginger and juice–then strained through find mesh to get rid of the bitter ginger pulp.
On its own, this combination was potent as hell. I sipped a little bit and it warmed my entire chest. Whewwww. (I guess it has that in common with booze.) But combined with my current-favorite herbal sparkling water combo (rosemary, peppermint, and lemon verbena) with a ratio of about 4:1 in favor of the water? Very nice. And a little fancy. Could be fancier. Could even be mixed with your favorite liquor, I suppose, but I’ll leave that up to you fans of mixology.
…I ate a bunch of food. There’s no denying that Indian food is an unbelievably broad category, really; it’s almost insulting to cram such a huge range of culinary traditions under that one umbrella. I spent about two and a half weeks in Bangalore for work some years back and got to see the tiniest sliver of this first hand. Fancy restaurants, little cafes, office cafeterias–I was so happy to try it all.
So why am I posting about a pretty humble dish, lemon rice?
One of my coworkers shared it with me. Her mom made it for breakfast. There was a chutney. It was colorful and full of texture and some milder flavors (turmeric, mustard seed, curry leaf). It’s not the kind of thing you’re likely to find in many restaurants, and yet, it was so delicious to me. So satisfying. Honest to blob, I dream about this fucking lemon rice sometimes.
Like…you can travel and eat at restaurants, and that’s awesome (dear god I have so many fond memories of eating my way through Singapore on the same work trip), but connecting with another person over food? Over cooking? That’s special.
Anyway, I hadn’t tried to recreate it at home, because I was pretty sure it would disappoint. I did, however, procure some curry leaves (my partner’s gardener extraordinaire mother has a plant), and thought I’d give it a go, using Vegan Richa’s recipe. It wasn’t as good as the memory, naturally, but it was wonderful all the same.
My very first solo trip abroad, in the middle of my senior year of college, was to Southeast Asia: Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore. The primary motivation was that I had a couple friends in Kuala Lumpur who talked up the food in their hometown. I had to go. (Also, like, everyone goes to Europe, right? Pssh, so normie. I may have been the worst.)
As formative experiences go, it was a pretty great one (one terrible case of food poisoning that ruined red wine for me forever aside). And the food was legit delicious all around. But to represent that trip, I thought I’d try my hand at something popular at the open-air cafes called mamaks we visited several times: roti canai. That’s a flaky pan-fried flatbread served with a savory dip like a curry or dal. Good for breakfast. Good for anytime, really. And it’s a process that requires skill and experience, neither of which I’m likely to master this first time out, but let’s try, anyway.
The recipe I used wasn’t the most detailed, but I made some judgment calls along the way. For example, I used boiling water instead of room temp, for one because salt and sugar needed to dissolve in it and for another because I’ve seen that used for dumpling-like dough that gets stretched in ways called for later on.
The dough gets a long rest, then it’s flattened and stretched into a big windowpane, basically, before twirling it into a loose coil. That means it doesn’t really matter if there are tears in the thin dough; it’s forgiving, I suppose. The more thin flaps and folds, the more texture in the final product.
It’s not ad big and stretchy and flaky and golden as the real thing, but it’s very nice. And served with dal, it’s a meal.
I want to start this post by mentioning something I did not make but wanted to: tempeh. Years ago, we saw a demonstration by someone who had created a complicated system for homemade tempeh; it involved fish tank equipment, among other things I didn’t want to buy, and at least two dozen PowerPoint slides of instruction. Then I watched the East Meets Kitchen’s video in which she made mung bean tempeh wrapped in banana leaves. It looked doable. Also, despite my general distaste for actual bananas, I love things cooked in banana leaves, so, like many of her videos, I got hungry just thinking about it. Anyway. Maybe another time.
A much more achievable “international food product” with my current energy level is preserved lemon. So I made that last month–it needs to ferment and chill for a couple weeks before using, after all.
Preserved lemon is an ingredient in some tagine recipes, so I figured I’d attempt one of those. I’d made vegetable stews that were Moroccan-“inspired” before, but not necessarily with much knowledge of those cooking techniques. So I read up a little and modified (veganized) one of the recipes I found.
A key difference from how I’d cooked this *handwave* general-ish type of food before is that ingredients are purposefully and carefully stacked and arranged inside the cooking vessel, then simply simmered until cooked to desired doneness. That is, instead of sauteeing and adding ingredients over a cook, it all goes in the pot. Making a little mound of chickpeas and layering slabs of zucchini and bell pepper was a nice, pretty bonus.
The preserved lemon was also nice and tender and tangy. I’ve got a whole jar of ’em, now, too, so I’ll need to continue to experiment…
Earlier this month, we took a little vacation up to Mendocino, which gave us the chance to indulge in a classic American road trip ritual rarely enjoyed by vegans: the fast food burger and fries.
Usually I’d make some kind of hummus wrap thing, a quinoa salad, whatever–but not this time. This time, we got to go to Amy’s Drive Thru. I got a burger, fries, and drink (ginger mint lemonade). K got a burrito. We both got to appreciate the landscaping–no ball pits here, but a living roof? Low-water garden surrounding the whole place? Fantastic.
The fries disappeared while we headed north, but the burger waited until we were charging the car at a Walmart off 101.
OK, I did bake at least one thing: a nice batch of monster chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. 85% dark chocolate chips, too. Perfect for when you’re unfortunate enough to get your damn period while on vacation.
In my family, holiday celebration planning primarily consists of menu creation. Beyond working around everyone’s dietary requirements at any given time, we love to try new things, get creative, and sometimes even experiment. Making things from scratch we wouldn’t normally is a must. For example, a few years ago, for Thanksgiving, we made gnocchi, sweet potato gnocchi, AND ravioli. From scratch. For, like, five of us. It was a bit over the top, sure, but at least those things freeze well.
I don’t make fresh pasta all the time. It’s a project. Not as difficult as some, but more time-consuming than an everyday meal. When I do, I like to experiment a bit with colors and flavors. Once I made the dough with pureed nettles, resulting in intensely green hand-cut noodles (probably akin to papardelle). For today’s prompt, I decided to experiment with using beets to color my pasta, using a simple homemade broth.
I haven’t had the “proper” flour for making pasta in ages–shit’s expensive, and the goddamn pantry moths get into it–so I did a 50/50 split of all-purpose and whole wheat flour with a ratio of 3:1 of flour to broth. I let the food processor do most of the work, just kneading it for a bit at the end to make sure it was reasonably smooth before cranking it through the pasta roller. The texture was solid enough that letting the machine give me fettuccine strips was effortless. (If the dough is too sticky, it can get stuck in the rollers.) The end result was beautifully rich pinky-magenta pasta like I’ve never seen.
The other tricky thing about fresh pasta is how to sauce it. A heavy marinara or rich cashew cream base would drown out the flavor; basil pesto didn’t seem quite right, visually or taste-wise, for beet pasta. I landed on caramelized onion with sauteed cherry tomatoes for a pop of sweetness and olive oil-y richness, a handful of torn basil for contrast, and toasted pepitas for crunch.
The broth did give the pasta a subtle depth of flavor, and the whole thing was just…pretty. Complementary reds on the plate and delicious tastes in the mouth, mmm. Homemade pasta is never regrettable.
I’m a farmers’ market junkie, so eating in season is my default, but I did want to stick with my “try new things” MoFo plan and highlight the good stuff we get here in August.
Tomatoes are key this time of year. I could’ve made a whole tomato THING, really, but I didn’t. Eggplant is also in season, and squash–and squash blossoms. Basil and other herbs are beautiful; I’m getting avocado and sweet fancy lettuce varieties too. So why not make an eggplant BLT–I haven’t made eggplant bacon before–and stuffed squash blossoms?
For the BLT, only the eggplant required a little extra prep. Everything else was wash ‘n’ slice.
A side of stuffed squash blossoms takes a little more effort, but it’s worth it.
I’ve done stuffed squash blossoms before, but these had a slightly different filling and batter. In the past, I’ve done more of a cornmeal crust; this was white flour and club soda (OK, well, homemade herbed sparkling water). And I made the almond ricotta myself with blanched almond flour, lemon juice, and water.
I guess “teriyaki tempeh” doesn’t scream “beach picnic,” but who are you to judge me?
Bright, colorful, filling–but not too rich, no no, wouldn’t want to interfere with sandy wanderings!
The only thing that relied on an actual written recipe was the cabbage slaw, and that came from Martha Stewart, of all places. It was all right–maybe a bit too salty? But it balanced all right with everything else on the plate. Plus I love chopping up cabbage super thin. Makes me feel like I have a knife skill. (Yeah, one.)
My teriyaki marinade is a haphazard thing I throw together in slightly different proportions every time. This one included ginger, garlic, whites of a scallion, soy sauce, mirin, agave nectar, and sesame oil, just enough to cover a container of uncooked tempeh slabs. It marinated overnight, then baked for about 40 minutes, or until most of the liquid cooked out. The result was super tender and flavorful (not to mention glossy and a pleasing shade of brown, perfect for insta).
For the almond dip, once again, I threw things in a food processor and hoped for the best: a handful whole almonds (unsoaked), fresh minced ginger, heaping teaspoon-ish of mild miso, eyeballed a tablespoon or two of tahini, agave nectar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and finally water until desired texture is reached. I was aiming for a kind of hummus-y texture that would contrast somehow with the teriyaki and cabbage dishes. It was a bit thick, but decent as a dip for crunchy veggies.
Just for the record, we really did eat this on a picnic table at the beach. It was a lovely gray day and we were trying to find a state beach along the Monterey coast that wasn’t completely packed, and just lucked out at Pajaro Dunes.
A true “spring” salad would, for me, involve highly seasonal produce: peas, asparagus, baby artichokes, fava beans, etc. Most of which is not so available by late summer, when we’re more likely to find other excellent salad ingredients like tomatoes and corn. Those…those are not very spring-y. So you can see my dilemma.
What ARE springtime ingredients still good now? Herbs, spinach, lettuce, radish, and carrots. Among other things. So I made a simple salad with greens, roots, scallions, toasted pepitas, and a lemon vinaigrette. Earth-shattering? No. But delicious and great on a hot summer day.
Hey it’s a meme no one will remember by the time this posts!
Anyway, today is Fall Colors day, and that means yellow squash, orange sweet potato, or red beets. I made borscht because I don’t think I have before and it’s very, very red.
Like, very red. The red that turns everything it touches red, including the potato and carrot also in this soup. But I did use a stick blender to make the broth a bit thicker. I didn’t puree everything, just some of it.
Oh, also, there’s some cannellini in there because it makes it more of a meal, I guess? But so does a nice swirl of almond yogurt, a sprinkle of fresh dill, and a slice of seeded rye.
When it’s hot, I just want to lay under a fan and pass out. My tolerance for “hot” tops out around 80, really, so why the hell did I move to California? Anyway. I have a few hot weather cold drinks I rotate through in the summer.
Herb/fruit-infused fizzy water
Some people are into soda, or La Croix, or all the bottled stuff, and I get that–but it felt wasteful and expensive. My partner kindly picked up this iDrinkMate carbonator for us, which is basically the same as a SodaStream but it is allegedly more tolerant of working on juices etc. Which we have done! (Juice of one grapefruit straight into the bottle then water to the line is extremely refreshing.) But my go-to is herbal infusions, sometimes with lemon. Occasionally lime, but lemon doesn’t get as bitter, in my experience. Spearmint, peppermint, and rosemary are all amazing choices, but my favorite is lemon verbena.
OK, so I like herbs in things, I guess, because my iced tea preferences veer in an herbal direction. Black iced tea is great, but I don’t like to overdo it on the caffeine on hot afternoons. Blends with hibiscus, lemongrass, and mint are lovely, but I have to admit that lately I’ve been loving mint green tea the most.
Cold brew coffee
God, I love coffee. I have a 20-oz. insulated mug that works great for hot or iced, but when the weather demands it, there’s nothing better than cold brew. I make it in my French press (which isn’t how I like to make hot coffee, for what it’s worth–I’m a pour over kinda person). For me, one batch lasts two days, so basically one day I set up a new batch, the next day I strain it. Every once in awhile I’ll add some nondairy milk, but usually it’s just black coffee on ice. Ahhhhh.