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I was not feeling up to cooking today. I had the day off from school, it was cool and rainy out, and I preferred spending the afternoon on my screened porch reading kabbalah to scurrying around my kitchen. I’ve done a lot of (I think) good cooking lately, so I took a brief holiday from being experimental and dedicated and had that long afternoon of tea and Abulafia.

But I can’t take a break from food altogether. I thought about ordering Chinese, and I thought about throwing together a macaroni salad, but the all-day rain put me in the mood for soup. I put together a simple vegan version of chicken noodle soup while watching the Food Network and wearing very soft pajama pants. One carrot, 1/4 cup chopped sweet onion, two cloves of garlic, diced chicken-style seitan, whole wheat spaghetti broken into little pieces, olive oil, crushed red pepper, and faux chicken boullion. Done. That’s it. Just like mom used to make, only with no dead birds. And no celery, because (I’m sorry, I know it’s part of the Holy Trinity) I hate celery with a passion.

I hadn’t used seitan in any soup or stew applications yet, and I was a bit worried that it would break down. No chance! Boiling only gave it a very realistic texture, which took some getting used to. Why did I wait so long to try making my own seitan?

On the side, I had a toasted bun with Smart Balance and garlic salt. Sometimes a simple, straightforward dish is exactly what I want. Now I’m going to kick back in my bathrobe with a mug of rooibos and wait for House to come on.

Yesterday was A Major Kitchen Project for me, so I decided to make today’s cooking a bit more scaled down and I made the choice to experiment with converting some fondly-remembered omni recipes from my childhood to vegan versions–some of them more successfully than others. Also today, I actually ate three whole meals, something I almost never do. Most days I eat one meal (dinner) and one or two snacks. I essentially only eat breakfast on Sundays and usually only eat lunch if someone has invited me out. This really doesn’t seem healthy, so I’m trying to remedy that.

For breakfast, I toasted one of yesterday’s sandwich buns and spread it with natural peanut butter and some slices of Jazz apple. I looooved peanut butter and fruit on sandwiches when I was a kid–in high school I used to eat peanut butter and kiwi sammies as a snack–and it seemed like a good way to kick off the morning. I ate it on the run with a travel mug of rooibos tea with soymilk and turbinado sugar.

For lunch, I tried my hand at adapting Childhood Classic #1: Chicken Fingers, using chicken-style seitan. I used a recipe on the side of a Bisquick box which called for dipping the chicken in egg before shaking it in coating. Lack of egg is usually my main problem in effectively breading vegan food for baking or frying, and today I decided to try soaking my seitan pieces in “vegan buttermilk” (soy milk + lemon juice). In addition to making the breading stick, I hoped that the soaking process would keep the seitan from drying out too much in the oven.

The seitan in a bag of “buttermilk.” I would have put them in a bowl, but we had “planned water line maintenance” on my street which meant that I was without running water for part of the afternoon and wanted to keep a stack of dirty dishes from forming on my counter.

And the seitan, breaded and drizzled with melted margarine as per the Bisquick instructions, waiting to go into the oven. Okay, the problems with this recipe were mostly strategic. The foil on the baking sheet is sprayed with olive oil. The side of the seitan which was facing down for the first six minutes of baking crisped up beautifully, exactly the texture I was hoping for. But because the flip side didn’t get this same oil exposure and had to rely on the margarine drizzle, only parts of its breading cooked properly. The directions on the box could have been a bit clearer on the purpose of the margarine drizzle–if I had thought about it, I would have sprayed the tops of the seitan with oil, too. But as cooked, one side did not crisp up as well as the other. The seitan inside stayed moist thanks to the buttermilk, and the properly cooked side of the breading was tasty and crisp. I ate these dipped in leftover Carolina barbecue sauce. I had a prettier picture, but I decided to use this one displaying the improperly crisped side of the seitan so ya’ll could see what I did wrong.

Childhood Classic #2 was peanut butter Hershey’s kiss cookies. Even if your own family never made them, I’m sure that you’ve seen them somewhere: a sugar-coated peanut butter cookie topped with a melty Hershey’s kiss. I love those cookies. I even already have an excellent vegan recipe for them somewhere, but I couldn’t find it, so I hastily veganized a recipe from the internet and hit a couple of stumbling blocks. The cookie dough had a texture closer to muffin batter and the proportions of sugar seemed off to me. I added more sugar and flour in tablespoonfuls until I had a dough I could work with (although it developed bizarre ooblick-like properties), rolled them in a mix of vegan sugar and powdered ginger, and popped the little suckers in the oven. When they came out, I topped them with squares of Chocolove dark chocolate* instead of Hershey’s kisses. The cookies themselves are soft and cakelike, and not terribly sweet–and honestly, I like them that way, because while I love to bake I do not have a big sweet tooth.

Childhood Classic #3 was Macaroni and Cheese. I used the Eazy Breezy Cheezy Sauce recipe from the PPK, and ended up channeling Cuny Queen by adding peas to my pasta. Normally I would use broccoli, but since I don’t have any, peas it was. On the side I fried up some beef-style seitan, as a nod to the chunks of Polish sausage that my mother would serve with mac and cheese when I was a kid. Then I drenched the entire thing with hot sauce. I actually tend to make my food much spicier than other people like. My father is anosmic–that is, he has no sense of smell–and because of this his sense of taste is very limited. Since the spicy “flavor” of hot peppers comes from capsaicin, he can actually taste spicy food, so most of what my mother cooks for him is very hot and she passed that tendancy on to me.

I liked the cheezy sauce. It’s not Kraft, but if you’re used to the boxed vegan mac and cheese mixes like Road’s End Organics, eazy breezy cheezy is better and cheaper than those. After I took the picture, I got a little concerned about my general lack of vegetables today and I cooked up some turnip greens with sesame oil and ginger. They were yummy, but I was rather hungry by that point and I neglected to take a picture.

*a note on Chocolove dark chocolate:  Chocolove bars work well for this recipe because they are divided into roughly Kiss-sized pillows of chocolate which break apart easily. Chocolove recieves some of their base chocolate from sources which do not have separate processing lines for dark and milk chocolate. While Chocolove uses separate dedicated lines for dark and milk chocolate bars in their own facility, and the dark chocolate bars do not contain dairy ingredients, they cannot promise that there is no cross-contamination from prior steps in the processing chain. I’m comfortable with that, but if you are allergic or if this is an issue for you, any other vegan chocolate bar which can be broken into Kiss-sized lumps can work for making peanut butter kiss style cookies. The higher the percentage of dark chocolate in a Chocolove bar, the lower the chance that there has been cross-contamination.

It’s true. Like many of you, I grew up in an omnivorous family. I became a vegetarian at age twelve, and after that my awareness of what meaty tidbits my family ate on a regular basis becomes a little dim. What I’m getting at is this:  I don’t know what omnivores eat on the nights when they’re tired and it’s late and they haven’t planned anything and they need to clear some things out of the fridge, but I do know what vegans eat in this situation. Stir fry. A concoction that often features Eastern flavor components like ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil, the contents of stir fry are often based entirely on what is at hand and have only the most nebulous relation to anything found in Asian cuisine. The abuses that we, as a group, have committed against the concept of “Japanese food” in the name of using up some fast-fading vegetables are numerous and surprisingly tasty.

There are times when a stir fry is planned in advance and executed brilliantly, and then there are stories like tonight’s. I fell asleep, and woke up at 8pm both hungry and unwilling to put forth hard work. “Stir fry!” I said to myself, thinking of half a packet of carrot udon noodles in the cupboard. I rummaged around in the fridge to see what lucky vegetables would be included.

Looks like tonight’s winners are some impulsively purchased green beans, the last quarter of an onion, a portobello mushroom cap (I feel like this is not an Asian mushroom), and a stalk of green onion. Unbidden, my mother’s voice comes to my mind:  “What about protein?” But then out of the freezer, like a bat, flies a bag of frozen edamame. Veggies, carbs, protein–this is beginning to look like a perfectly healthy meal. There is a hitch. I am completely out of both soy sauce and sesame oil, which as far as I am concerned come standard in stir fry. It’s too late, I’ll have to make do with crushed red pepper, cayenne, garlic, powdered ginger, and powdered onion soup mix. I fry everything up in vegetable oil, which does the job just fine even though it lacks the savory kick of sesame oil.

On the side I have a pile of “fridge pickles,” which are just slices of cucumber, radish, and green onion which have been marinating in vinegar and salt in the fridge. Don’t be fooled by their simplicity, they are a sign from the gods that we, the people of Earth, are loved.

I spent the whole afternoon cooking, although none of it showed up in my dinner. I tried to make oatmeal bread in my bread machine, which became a long and chaotic story and ended with finishing the loaf in the oven. It is quite edible but very unattractive, so I doubt that I will ever post a picture of the actual loaf. Simultaneously, I made the pumpkin fauxsage from Have Cake Will Travel using the pumpkin leftover from Thursday’s pumpkin muffins. I made one giant log of fauxsage, but in retrospect I should have broken it up into smaller links. It is tasty, but enormous and a little more spongy than I would have liked. The fauxsage will be featured in more detail during breakfast tomorrow, but I’d like to close with something that will probably not show up on any other blog during Veganmofo.

That is a slice of homemade oatmeal bread topped with a layer of Tofutti “cream cheese,” a piece of fried and salted pumpkin fauxsage, and horseradish preserved in beet juice. Sometimes my tastebuds channel Eastern Europe in very strange ways.

I’m sure this seems ridiculous, but of all of the things I cooked over the past couple of days, I was most excited about blueberry pancakes. Not because I had a surplus of blueberries kicking around and not because I am particularly fond of blueberry pancakes, but because I have never IN MY LIFE successfully made pancakes before this week. They always came out lumpy, thin, translucent, burnt, or rubbery, no matter what recipe I followed. Scratch? Failure. Boxed mixes? Failure. Who messes up making boxed pancake mix? I do, every time.

But the stars aligned on Thursday morning, and I pulled off perfect light, round pancakes. Accompanying these blueberry-cinnamon pancakes are a cup of Greek yogurt topped with three-berry preserves, red grapes, and Gimme Lean vegan sausage.

Next up are vegan chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. The recipe:
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 16-oz can of pumpkin puree, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, Ener-G egg replacer (2 eggs’ worth), 1 1/4 cups vegan cane sugar, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, and 2/3 cup of vegan chocolate chips.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonguetrip/3957097056/in/photostream/

 

At Whole Foods the other day, I discovered that Gimme Lean (my favorite vegan sausage) also comes in a beef-style version, so I bought some to make meatballs. I thought about just serving them with spaghetti, but my friendboy had a meatball sub for lunch and it sounded good to me. “Meatballs” browned in olive oil, served on a toasted sesame bun with tomato sauce and an Italian six-cheese blend that my roommate uses for pizza. On the side are braised brussels sprouts with carrots and onions and a green salad with grape tomatoes.

I was not in a good mood today, so I went with something very lazy and comforting for dinner. The recipe comes from the Jif peanut butter website and is called “Easy Peanut Pasta Twists.” One of my former roommates used to make this dish, and while the ingredients seem kind of like a strange combination (peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, chili powder, crushed red pepper, garlic, ketchup), it’s spicy and creamy and delicious. I didn’t even bother to plate it, I just ate it out of the serving bowl with a tall glass of orange juice and a Law and Order marathon.

Veganmofo III is about to begin in October. While I didn’t have a blog until this year, I followed Veganmofos I and II. I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian, not a vegan, but I will be going vegan for the month of October to participate. I was a vegan for several years, and I “reverted” to vegetarianism after a period of serious illness during which I lost a lot of weight. I wasn’t gaining weight back fast enough on a vegan diet, and so I returned to eating eggs and dairy. It bugs me a lot, but I feel… fallen? Disgraced? Strangely religious language to use, but lacking a religion, veg*nism is an important part of my ethical views and I feel like I’ve let down myself and factory farmed animals by falling off the vegan wagon.

So I’ll be a vegan again for the month of October, eating and blogging exclusively vegan food every day for thirty-one days.

Once upon a time, my grandmother gave me a giant multi-pound bag of Israeli couscous. Nearly a year later, I still have trouble coming up with things to do with the stuff. Tonight some of it was incorporated into a straightforward pasta salad with radishes, grape tomatoes, diced red onion, diced cucumber, diced red pepper, garlic, and apple cider vinegar.

To go along with the pasta salad, I also made some cabbage steamed in vinegar and great northern beans with Gimme Lean vegan “sausage” and paprika.

Also, some seedless red grapes. I’m not a big grape-eater, but they were on sale, so now I have a very large bag of them and they need to be eaten.

The pasta salad was tasty, but I don’t care for the texture of Israeli couscous and I wouldn’t use it at all if I didn’t have a giant bag of it. The beans were great–I love the combination of beans and Gimme Lean. Usually I put them in soups together, but they’re just as friendly with each other like this. I didn’t care for the cabbage cooked like this, but I didn’t have the necessary two hours to braise it.

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