Wednesday, May 24, 2006

steamed mushroom dumplings

dumplings, ravioli, potstickers, gyoza, spring rolls, summer rolls, tootsie rolls, i don't care what you call them, i just love little packets stuffed with minced bits of things, but i really don't eat them very often. they're frequently stuffed with mr. tasty pig, or ms. tangy cheese and when they're not, they've often had intimate realtions with a deepfryer leading to a delicious state of being that i appreciate but know better than to indulge in too frequently. sigh, it is a sad but very real state of affairs that the older you get, the less you can get away with in terms of reprecussion-free overindulgence. but there is a silver lining on every cloud, and i eagerly anticipate ascending my throne of cane-waving, male-nurse-bum pinching, triple plaid-wearing, cranky-old-lady-dom.

so i wanted dumplings. i wanted steamed dumplings. and these are what i made. the filling is quite tasty with a lot of rich tasting mushrooms and a good lively kick of ginger. the original recipe (which i can't credit because i've totally altered it and don't remember where i found it anyway) says to put the filling in raw, but i cooked everything down first, except the green onion, ginger and rice wine vinegar. these are about as tasty as meat and msg-free dumplings get, although i will be the first to admit that they do not give mr. swine much competition in the taste department. if memory serves correctly. but they're fun (okay, maybe tedious is more the word) to make and if you're a vegetarian they might be one of the only ways to get yourselves a truly vegetarian potsticker.

mushroom dumplings
3 cups finely shredded cabbage, napa or green
4-5 good sized dried shitake mushrooms (reconstituted = 1/2 cup diced)
1 cup minced fresh button mushrooms
2 Tablespoons finley minced shallots or onion
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
2 Tablespoons green onion, diced
1-2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
24 egg free gyoza wrappers

saute everything except the ginger, green onion and rice wine vinegar until soft. remove from heat and mix in the remaining ingredients. adjust seasoning to taste. set aside to cool. lay out a gyoza wrapper and place one scant teaspoon full in the center. run a damp finger around half the outer edge of the wrapper and fold over, pinching the seams together as snugly around the filling as possible. you can crimp the edges like a fluted pie crust if you like. set aside and continue with the rest of the dumplings. when they are all constructed, bring a pot of water to a boil and place a steamer basket inside. grease or pan spray the insert to prevent sticking and lay the dumplings in one at a time so that they do not overlap. cover and steam for 10 - 15 minutes per batch. serve with ponzu or the dipping sauce of your choice. i usually throw together a sauce made of equal parts rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, a few drops of sesame oil and a squirt of sriracha.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

weekend cat blogging #50: springtime ode to a bud

bud. aka "the enforcer". aka "budmeister general". aka "sir".

i would like you all to meet bud. or, alternately, sir. many, many suns ago this bad boy was rescued when he was just small enough to fit into the somewhat mannish and freakishly large palm of my stepmother's hand. sporting an early-spring bud-like manx tail, he was christened "bud".

despite his tiny stature and lack of that most expressive of feline accoutrements, bud quickly became became the alpha dog, general disciplinarian and enforcer of good manners amongst the existing herd of three giant shepherds. throughout the years as more cats have wandered off the remote rural road, freshly abandoned by their "loving" owners, bud's role in the household has expanded to breaking in the new feline recruits. one cross eyed look, false lunge, or flash of an incisor directed toward one of his feline flock and the foolish canine quickly learns just how sharp a cat's claws can be. these days when bud, old man that he has become, is sprawled in the center of the floor, upside down, legs spread, snoring and farting in a mushroom cloud of bad breath, the now ancient and arthritic curs steer a wide berth.

clownish canine courtly
wakes in dreams of sleeping

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

red bean gumbo

kidney bean
bathing in fluorescent light
surf and turf twelve-ninety-nine
i dream of sizzler

kidney beans. white mushy paste held together by a tough and flavorless red skin. the kind that gets caught in your teeth and gums making for that oh-so-flattering, banjo-picking, first-cousin-courtin', mash-distillin', blacktoothed-hillbilly look. kidney beans. they make me think of cheap salad bars and tin cans. it's strange that i've always had such contempt for this innocuous little fellow because i love beans. with this one exception i don't think i've ever met a bean that me and my ever-ready jar of beano didn't like.

well imagine my surprise on that fateful day when i bypassed tin can alley and cooked up a batch from the real, dried, organic, kidney-shaped thing. what a revelation! neither starchy nor mushy but with a meltingly tender interior held in a firm yet gentle embrace by this smooth, taut, beautiful expanse of maroon skin. kidney bean, i apologize. it was not your fault that your sensitive nature was not strong enough to stand up against the cold and brutal world of mass production, saline injections and tin entombment.

if you have the opportunity i encourage you to experiment with cooking your own beans at home. with a pressure cooker and the addition of salt in the cooking water, you and your trusty can of beano can also come a little closer to the divine spirit of legume.

onto today's recipe from deborah madison's vegetarian cooking for everyone is red bean gumbo with greens. this is a simple tasting dish that sports a lovely rich and nutty roux base that is just hearty enough to stand up against the somewhat assertive beans and greens. with bell peppers, greens, beans, onions, celery and garlic it has a lot of heart-healthy goodness going for it. this is one of those dishes that tastes better the next day once the flavors have a chance to meld, or as we like to put it in our house, "once it gets a little rotty".

red bean gumbo with greens
2-3 large bunches of assorted greens (mustard, turnip, collards, kale, etc.)
1/3 cup oil
6 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 bay leaves
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, cut into 1/2" pieces (any color but red is prettiest)
3 stalks of celery, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups cooked red kidney beans
2 quarts stock or reserved greens cooking water or reserved bean cooking water

thoroughly wash the greens in several changes of water to get rid of any sand and dirt and chop horizontally into 1/4" - 1/2" slices. you may remove and discard the really tough parts of the stems but i like to use as much of the plant as i can. bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the greens for about 10 minutes or until they're tender (this will depend on the type and age of your greens). drain and reserve some of the cooking water for later.

and now the roux. in a wide and heavy pot or skillet heat the oil over medium high. whisk in the flour and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture is a dark reddish brown. this is probably gonna take a little while, maybe 10-15 minutes or more. do not skimp on this step as it adds the characteristic, deep, rich, velvety gumbo flavor. if you are trying to avoid oil you can use bryanna grogan's "browned flour" method of thickening which is to brown the flour in a hot, dry non-stick pan and stir over a medium flame until the flour is browned. mix the browned flour with a little water (to avoid clumping) and add to the stock. once boiled this will thicken the sauce and provide a bit of a toasty flavor to the dish. i highly recommend using the oil in this particular dish as it really adds a great flavor. if you want to reduce the oil do so to only 1/4 cup, no less, as the roux will get too thick to properly stir beyond that point. the instructions then say to stir in the seasons and vegetables before adding the 2 quarts of reserved greens cooking water (or reserved bean cooking water) or stock directly into your pot. i usually make my roux in a saucepan and add the water directly into the pan, whisking like crazy to make sure all the clumps come out. then i place the vegetables, seasonings, thinned out roux, beans and greens all together in a pot and simmer for 30 minutes or so.

after 30-40 minutes begin adjusting for seasonings. i usually have to add quite a bit more salt, red pepper, thyme and onion powder to get the flavors up to where i like them. for me this recipe takes a bit of fiddling to get the flavors just so but then again i have a somewhat brutish and lazy palate.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

graham crackers

"cute" shape

crackers. not the trucker-hat-wearing, acid-washed-levis sportin', trailer-dwelling, shotgun toting, mulleted kind, but the other, tastier, much more edible type.

i didn't think people really made crackers. so thin, so crispy, so cute and usually so little, i figured this was a task reserved soley for the miniature and dexterous hands of the keebler elves. with a pair of size fourteen man-hands i was fit only for drop cookies and dumplings.

but then i saw this recipe for graham crackers from nic over at bakingsheet. it didn't sound too terribly difficult and to my knowledge she is a mere mortal. so i gave it a whirl and you know what, they turned out great. i mean, they actually tasted like graham crackers. and the ones that i used a cookie cutter on turned out so very cute. little hearts. little gingerbread man shapes. little bunnyrabbits. the ones i free-handed into the more traditional rectangular shapes were a bit less pleasing to the eye. not quite as uniform...some, inadvertently stretched the boundaries of the definition of a rectangle. rectacylindriconal, more like.

traditional graham cracker recipes require the use of graham flour, a somewhat obscure and difficult item to find. graham flour was invented by sylvester graham a minister and advocate of vegetarianism, temperance, regular bathing (!) and the use of whole grain flours. graham flour differs from whole wheat flour in that the whole grain is not ground up all at once but rather separated out into two components. the endosperm, which is the stuff of white flour is finely ground. the bran and the germ together are coarsely ground. then the two flours are mixed back together resulting in a flour that bakes well and retains a coarse and nutty texture. if you can't find graham flour, just use wheat flour as specified in the recipe. you could sprinkle a little wheat germ in there as well.

traditional shape

graham crackers
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 /2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup earth balance margarine
2 Tablespoons agave nectar (or honey or brown rice syrup)
2 Tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla
cinnamon and sugar mixture for sprinkling on top (optional)

place the flours, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. cut small cubes of the margarine in with the flour mixture and pulse for about another 30 seconds until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. in another bowl combine the wet ingredients and whisk until combined. pour into the flour-margarine mixture and process until the dough starts to clump. this should take less than a minute. you may need to add a bit more water since i reduced the amount of margarine in the original recipe from 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup (i added about 2 T. more water). remove dough from processor and divide into two balls. roll each ball out between two pieces of waxed paper until it is very thin (1/8") and chill until firm. this is make it easier to handle the dough when you cut the shapes and transfer to a baking sheet. i placed mine in the freezer for about 30 minutes. with a sharp knife cut the crackers into 2" squares and place on a parchment lined (or pan sprayed nonstick) baking sheet. you can also cut out cute shapes and re-roll the scrapes to make more fun shapes (re-rolling didn't appear to have any negative effect on the dough). stab the dough with a fork or toothpick to give it that characteristic graham cracker look. sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture if using and bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. cool and store in an airtight container.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


"i am haggis, hear me roar..."

haggis: "a scottish dish consisting of a mixture of the minced heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf mixed with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the stomach of the slaughtered animal."

now doesn't that sound good? good like a sharp stick in the eye. i suppose the first question that pops to mind is "why?!! why on earth would you want to veganize what sounds like one of the worst dishes in the world?" why indeed? perhaps a deep-rooted perversity stemming from a too early toilet training related trauma?

but i was intrigued. haggis. what a name! what a face! what a shape! it brings to mind that episode of cook's tour when tony goes to scotland and samples the local haggis. veggies, steel cut oats, herbs, really except for the gory garbage bits, it sounded pretty good. and believe it or not, there are lots of vegan recipes for haggis drifting around out there on the internet. i picked out a likely looking suspect from vegweb and, suffering from a.d.d. and unable to follow directions for more than three lines, i changed a few things. i added garlic, cause i like garlic. i omitted vegetarian "suet" (crisco, margarine, whatever) completely, cause i don't like greasy stuff. i threw in a bit more veggies and some burger crumbles, cause i like them too.

and here is the scary part. i really liked it. a lot.

this haggis is basically a nice whole-grain stuffing-like concoction baked in a casserole dish. the lentils cook down to a nice, creamy, earthy base that really work magic with the woodsy flavor of the mushrooms. the steel cut and rolled oats provide a creamy mouthfeel. the pearl barley perks things up with a slightly chewy and popping textural counterpoint. the burger crumbles (gimme lean sausage was my "crumble" of choice) adds a bit of authenticity. the minced vegetables flavor and color the grains beautifully. the vegemite imparts a really deep down rich and "beefy" note, and the herbs round out the flavor. finally, the lemon, which i added after the cooking (contrary to instructions), really brightened up the dish in a subtle yet crucial way. i imagine the addition of fresh minced parsely after cooking could also bring in a fresh note and some extra prettiness to this homey and homely dish.

the meat eater, after i begged, cajoled, prodded and threatened him with no cookies for a week, finally tasted a tiny bite. "it's surprisingly good", he said. then quickly backtracked once he saw the manical haggis-every-night-for-a-month gleam in my eye, "i mean, it's no treat or anything..." myself, i must disagree. this is a very hearty, tasty and satisfying dish in a rustic, rib-sticking, brutish, peasantish way. i thought it was a treat indeed.

for more information about the infamously mocked and maligned haggis, check out wikipedia. the entry is rife with interesting facts about haggis' history in addition to haggis-related sporting events such as haggis hurling. and don't forget to mark your calendars for burns night (january 25th), an evening to honor scotland's native son and poet, robert burns with a burns supper. from what i gather this is basically an excuse for a bunch of drunken, burns-reciting ne'er do wells, to gather 'round a haggis, make merry and have a "wee-bit-o-dram", as my friend's seventy-something year old scottish aunt used to whisper to us as she pulled out the well-worn flask from the pocket of her tattered housecoat, "ta keep ya' warm".

1/4 cup red lentils
1/4 cup barley
1/4 cup green or brown lentils
3/4 steelcut oats (eg irish oats or pinhead oats)
1/4 cup oatmeal (not instant)
2 teaspoons marmite or vegemite*
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon each (or more to taste): thyme, rosemary, onion powder and sage
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh minced parsley
1-2 carrots, minced
2 cloves garlic
1 onion, minced
2 cups mushrooms, minced
1/4 (or more!) cup scotch whiskey
1 cup veggie burger crumbles of your choice** (i used gimme lean sausage)
2 cups vegetable stock or water
1/2 lemon, juiced

place lentils, barley and steel cut oats in a saucepan and cover with water by about 1/2 inch. simmer for about 20 minutes, covered, adding more water as necessary to prevent scorching. set aside. mince carrots, onion, mushrooms, parsely and garlic, or coarsely chop and whiz a few times in a food processor. throw the cooked grains, minced vegetables, and everything else into a large bowl and mix thorougly. place in a covered casserole dish and bake for 40-60 minutes at 350. check every 20 minutes or so to add more water if necessary.

* vegemite and marmite are both (contrary to urban legend) totally vegan. it has a very strong and salty flavor and i use it often in soups and stews where i want a beefy flavor. a little goes a long way so add it bit by bit. if you cannot find these products locally you may want to use a stronger, darker vegetable broth (i like better than bouillon) and/or some vegetarian worscestire sauce.

**you can omit or replace with equivalent amount of chopped walnuts

Monday, May 01, 2006


ganmodoki are little fritters of mashed tofu mixed with bits of vegetables, formed into balls or patties and fried until golden. a japanese dish ganmodoki are traditionally used in oden and soups. on a non-traditional note, you could form them into largish patties and use as a burger substitute. or you could eat them as is with your grubby little fingers. on that note, they would serve very well in a lunchbox or as a picnic item since they don't really need to be served hot or refrigerated and are virtually mess-free to eat.

in this version of ganmodoki, the fritters are baked and not fried. while this certainly affects the texture (there is really no substitute for a roiling, boiling, angry, hellish vat of fat) in that the fritters are not quite as fluffy and less uniformly golden, i find the baked version to be just as tasty with a satisfyingly chewy texture. you may change or alter the amounts of the filling to suit your own taste.

2 -3 cups crumbled firm tofu
1/4 cup grated carrot
1/4 cup minced green onion
1/4 cup baby peas
1/4 cup reconstituted minced shitake mushrooms
2 Tablespoons grated ginger
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (optional)
2 Tablespoons reconstituted hijiki seaweed or a pinch of kelp flakes (optional)

crumble the tofu, sqeezing each handful to remove a bit of water. place in bowl with all ingredients and combine. yes, you can mash the whole mess up with your little simian hands. just don't let the guests see.... taste for seasoning. place about a tablespoon into the palm of your hand and form into a ball, then flatten the ball into a thick disc shape (you may alter the size and shape of the ganmodoki depending on how you will use it). place on a lightly oiled DARK baking sheet (the color of the sheet will aid in getting a nice brown skin) and bake at 500 for about eight minutes each side. alternately you may fry the patties in a little bit of oil until golden and crisp on each side.
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