28 November 2010

Egyptian Breakfast

I've blogged about Ful Medames before.  It's the traditional breakfast in Egypt and the breakfast Big Momma & the gang this morning.  Fava (broad) beans, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and spices.  Served with pitta (although we didn't have any -- it's still good served neat).*  I used tinned tomatoes and frozen fava beans (from that giant tin I mentioned earlier).  It cooks up really quickly.

Ful Medames

I fried garlic, freshly ground cumin and coriander, chili flakes, thyme, and ginger in a pan until fragrant.  Then I added the frozen fava beans and stirred them around until they thawed.  Then I added tinned tomatoes and salt and cooked everything until it started to get a little pasty.  I served and topped it with coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley.  It was so good, I licked the plate!

*  That's a way of serving booze, not improper use of an adverb.

Crabby Kiwi Muffin & Parsnip Weaning

I thought I'd share with you an old muffin!fail.  Like I said, I am a pretty good cook, but am mediocre to the end when it comes to bakery-type stuff.  I tried making kiwi muffins with all this leftover kiwi I needed to get rid of.  I used a blueberry muffin recipe.  I didn't like them.  This one didn't like me:

This muffin has a face. And it's glaring at me.

BabyCrafter is almost 7 months old and occasionally has been grabbing at my food and drinks.  He likes drinking from my cup, so I thought he might be ready for solids.  Last week, we tried pumpkin and he was horrified.  Yesterday, we tried steamed parsnip.

He picked it up and tried a nibble.

Then spit it out and gagged a little!  :D

By comparison, ToddlerCrafter was stuffing his face at 5.5 months.  I think I rather prefer BabyCrafter's later weaning.  Breastfeeding is just so easy -- I do all my blogging and internet surfing with BabyCrafter on the boob.

26 November 2010

More Vitamin D Musings...

I wrote so much as a response to a comment from my earlier post on nutrition, I thought I'd add some citations and post it here:

From what I gather, D2 and D3 are both converted into the same chemical, but D3 has a longer half-life than D2. In large single-doses, D2 (ergocalciferol) doesn't hang around as long as D3 (cholecalciferol -- vitamin D3 is made from cholesterol -- http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/Vitamin-D.html), but if you are taking a daily dose, they are equally effective: 

(This is an article by Jack Norris -- I like him because he always cites his sources.)

It's okay to take vitamins!
A bottle of kidney beans is no substitution for a bottle of vitamins.

This is a very long paper that says D3 is still more effective and potent and discusses a wide variety of reasons (although it seems to indicate in some cases they are equally effective):


The biggest problem is that more and more people lead predominantly indoor lifestyles and don't make enough of their own D3 from the sun -- without supplementation, it is incredibly difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone (whether from fortified foods or non-vegan sources http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/tc/getting-enough-vitamin-d-topic-overview). 
The second biggest problem (which is not applicable to people in more equatorial regions) is that it is incredibly difficult (and in some regions impossible) to get enough UVB exposure in the winter -- from what I gather, once you are further north (south for our antipodean* friends) than a certain latitude, the sun's rays are coming in at too low an angle (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2839537). 

* And everyone else in the southern hemisphere...

Some people say it kind of sucks having to rely on supplements to get enough vitamin D, and I see where they're coming from. However, I think it's pretty cool that we are advanced enough to have supplements and are able to lead predominantly indoor lives without compromising our health. (I still try to spend time outdoors in the summer, though!) :D

Any questions?  Did I miss out on an important citation?  Let me know!

P.S.  I know there are a lot of wikipedia skeptics out there, but wiki has a great article on vitamin D (full of citations) that has a great section of the health benefits of vitamin D -- it boosts your immune system and can help reduce the risk of cancer.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_D

24 November 2010

That's a Lotta Beans!

Long story short, we got a 2.6kg can of broad (fava) beans for 99p.  (We also got a 3kg can of crushed pineapple in juice (hopefully pineapple juice, they didn't specify) for 99p but that's another story.)

The Scarecrow, Baby Crafter, & the big tin-o-beans.  

2.6kg of beans might be a big commitment to some, but not for me.  The Egyptians are really into their fava beans, too, (see my post on Ful Medames) and eat them for breakfast and use them in falafel instead of garbanzo beans.

Anyway, I chopped a leek into sticks and fried them in sunflower seed oil until they were nice and tender.  Then I added some minced garlic and freshly ground coriander and cumin.  I added some tomato paste and stirred in some basmati rice.  Then I threw some fava beans in there, shook some soy sauce on, and called it a day. 

Broad (Fava) Beans and the Gang

I like the eyes on these fava beans.  It's like they're looking at me. 

22 November 2010


You know how at the end of all of Nigella's cooking shows, you see her sneaking off to the kitchen late at night, having a little snack?  I totally do that.  So when you read my food blogs, just imagine me sneaking off to the kitchen for more food at the end.  Today, I'm making kimchi fried rice with the leftovers.

(After already finishing off the leftover veggie chips with some leftover salsa.)

Chloe stuffs her big fat face!

ETA:  I also had 2 small chocolate-covered minty things, a couple small pieces of dark chocolate, and two digestive biscuits. 

I like to eat.

Veggie Chips and Garlic & Rocket (Arugula) Fried Rice

Continuing with the theme of orange and tan-coloured food, dinner today was veggie chips (roasted swede (rutabaga) and parsnip, inspired by another VeganMoFo-er) and Garlic & Rocket (Arugula) Fried Rice.  The rice was cooked in a stock I made of veggie scraps this weekend. 

 Veggie Chips

This meal was inspired by my need to get rid of some of the older veg in my house.

Garlic & Rocket (Arugula) Fried Rice

20 November 2010

Nutrition Ramblings.

You probably didn't know this, but I am kind of nutritionally-obsessed.  Partly because knowledge of that kind of thing is useful in a health-related sense, partly because being vegan means I have a lot of nutrition-based discussions with a wide variety of people, but mostly because of my scientific enthusiasm.  I read the Manual of Nutrition, which is really interesting (and a good reference).  I got an older copy on Amazon for £2.76 after shipping.
I really like Jack Norris's blog:  http://jacknorrisrd.com/, which I find to be less biased and more accurate than other sites.

Corn on the Cobbb.
You find all kinds of crazy shizzle on the internet...

I've read a lot of inaccurate information about nutrition from various sources (regardless of their stance on vegetarianism), though.  For example, I've read on a few sites (and even in a book) that nettles and sunflower seeds are a great source of vitamin D, but I have yet to find any actual sources to back this up (the sites never seem to cite any sources relevant to this).  I have, however, read amazing tales of vitamin D being present in mushrooms that have been exposed to UV rays and these tale-tellers pretty much always cite their sources.

What I'm saying is it's always a good idea to double-check your 'facts' -- you don't want to get pwnd in a nutritional debate....

Pumpkin Marmite Penne

Yes.  Pumpkin Marmite penne.  Based loosely on the lovely Nigella's Spaghetti with Marmite.  I melted some margarine in a pan and added some Marmite and some of the starchy pasta water.  I stirred it.  I added some pumpkin and mushed it up.  Then I added the pasta.  It sounds weird, but it is fantastic. 

(I am embarrassed to admit I also added mock chicken that I bought on a whim from Asda.  I'm not really a fake meat kind of gal, seeing as I never really liked meat when I was a meat-eater anyway, but I saw it and thought I'd give it a try.  It's dry.  My toddler thinks it's tofu.  Future versions of this dish will not include mock chicken.)

Pumpkin Marmite Penne

As I type, my toddler and I are devouring this.  I sprinkled my son's with nutritional yeast because he thinks pasta with nutritional yeast is fancy and studies show he is more likely to clean his plate and less likely to throw any on the floor. 

Okay, now my toddler has passed out in his high chair.  Probably because the food was so good.


As usual, I am busy chasing the rugrats, so I thought I'd better make this post a quickie!

I did not used to be a big fan of sandwiches.  I didn't care much for PBJammins growing up and fake-meaty sammiches don't do it for me either.


But I have found a few sammiches that I quite like.  Fried sauerkraut and onions (a friend called me a "nasty!  A nasty vegan, but nasty in a good way!" for eating that) on toasted rye with a smear of mustard is nice.  I like pecan butter and unsweetened jam (strawberry or blueberry) -- kind of like a PBJ.  Avocado, onion, and nutritional yeast is good (side note:  mix nooch + mustard --> amazingly delicious sammich spread, I learned that from a sandwich at a Seattle market).  Pan-fried portabello mushroom (with garlic and herbs) and rocket (arugula to you yanks) is divine.  Cucumber and/or tomato with red onion, salt, and pepper (great with a side of black olives if my toddler doesn't snitch them all).

But my favourite sandwiches (at the moment, at least) are hummous.  My variations are endless, behold:
  • rocket (arugula) or watercress
  • red or green onions
  • jalapeños (pickled or fresh)
  • tomatoes
  • cucumber
  • avocado slices
  • olives
  • thinly-sliced radishes
  • thinly-sliced bell peppers (I prefer green, but everybody else seems to like red the best)
  • tabbouleh  
  • roasted veggies
  • sprouts!  (Thanks for reminding me to mention sprouts, TNT!)
I think you get the idea.  What kinds of sammiches do you like?  How do you eat your hummous?  Most importantly, what else should I try on my hummous sammiches?

17 November 2010

Ghetto Hummous

I just finished making sweet potato hummous.  It's pretty good.  I didn't feel like using a food processor, so I just mashed some leftover garbanzos with one of the beaters from my hand mixer.  I threw in 2/3 of a sweet potato, squeezed in juice of half of this lemon (I just used the hand mixer beater to juice it -- by cramming it in the lemon-half and twisting it back and forth) that had been sitting on my cutting board for a few days.  Then I chucked in a tbsp or so of tahini.  And I added salt.  Then I stirred everything up.  And put some of it on toast.  With pickled jalapeños. 

Check out my fabulousness and try not to be jealous of my mad culinary skills:  

Sweet Potato Hummous

My tablescape was totally inspired by Panda With Cookie, in case you were wondering. 


I was going to make a big curry how-to, but I've been busy with the rugrats!  :D  In the meantime, here's some curried food pr0n we've been eating this week.

Sweet potato, pumpkin, and chick pea curry.

Sweet potato, pumpkin, and chick pea curry.  Lunch today.  It's very orange.  I learned to love sweet potatoes by having them in curries.

Mix in Rice

Pumpkin, leek, carrot, tomato, and chickpea curry.  Lunch (and dinner) on Monday.

The rugrats beckon!  I must go play with one and boob the other.  Yes, I just used boob as a verb.

15 November 2010

The Spice of Life

I'm working on a curry post, but my wee kids need extra attention today, so here's a quickie.  Check out my herbs and spices. 

The Main Spice Shelf

This is the main shelf.  It's got a ton of bay leaves, two different kinds of dried chilies, chili flakes, cayenne pepper, white, black, and Sichuan peppercorns, white and black sesame seeds, a few different curry spice blends, herbs, tamarind, Kaffir lime leaves, whole nutmegs, star anise, brown and green cardamom (don't substitute one for the other, they taste completely different), cloves, cassia sticks, and a bunch of other stuff, including this jar of fake cheese powder that I bought on a whim ages ago (I am not a fan of imitation cheese (I don't like real cheese, either), but it had some kind of weird novelty value at the time, I guess).

But wait, there's more.

Jars of spices and dried herbs

Dried lemon thyme, dried sage, dill, ajwain seeds, cumin, coriander, anise seeds, delicious and pungent black nigella seeds, more dried thyme, powdered ginger, dried limes, and fenugreek.  There's also a big tub of paprika (but it's not in the picture -- doh!).  The dried limes and nigella seeds were the hardest for me to track down.

And more:


All the stuff I couldn't fit in the main shelf.  Mostly overstock and extra bags of this and that. And some Hungarian saffron, which isn't saffron at all.

I buy all my spices and most of my herbs from Chinese and Indian shops and the Asian/Middle-Eastern section of grocery stores (and the Latino section when I lived in PDX).  Basically, you are usually going to get ripped off if you buy spices marketed toward white people. 

I should show you my tea shelves next!  ;p

14 November 2010

Kimchi Jjigae

Y'all know I love kimchi.  And soups and stews.  So, of course, I love kimchi stew, aka kimchi jjigae.  I also love how jjigae is spelled with two j's.

Kimchi Jjigae!

Traditionally, kimchi jjigae is a stew with old (very very ripe/fermented) kimchi and a bean paste or chili paste.  I don't have either of those pastes on hand (I need to remember to pick up some the next time I hit up See Woo), but I find my versions to be quite satisfactory.  And by quite satisfactory, I mean delicious!!

Fry onions and carrots in oil until the onions start to turn clear.  Add garlic, ginger, and chili (I used a jalapeno in this case, but any chili or chili flakes are fine) and fry for about a minute.  Add mushrooms (I used oyster in my most recent version, but a wide variety of mushrooms will do), tofu, and whatever other veg you fancy adding and give it a good stir.  Add water. 

Bring to a jolly boil and simmer for a few minutes.

Cookin' up the stew!

Turn the heat off, stir in some soy sauce, miso,* and kimchi (don't add them when it's boiling because it will destroy the lovely bacteria and enzymes and stuff (you know, stuff)), a splash of kimchi juice (from the jar) if you're feeling daring (I am!), and add a splash of toasted sesame oil if you're feeling really feisty!

Pour into bowls and top with chopped green onions and fresh cilantro.  (I forgot to add these, doh!!  It was still delicious!  I had 3 bowls.)

Kimchi Jjigae!

Here's a different version I sometimes make:
Fry onion, garlic, ginger, and chili pepper in oil until onions are clear. Add water, shredded carrot, and tomato paste. Boil, then simmer for a bit. Add soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, and kimchi. Simmer a bit more. The soup will be a bright fiery red.

Eat it, pausing every so often to blow your nose.

*  This is the miso I use:


11 November 2010

On Bread and Birthdays.

I'm pleasantly surprised at the amount of November birthdays on the VeganMoFo blogroll.  I've seen at least 3.  It's my turn today.  I'm a hefty 34, but let me assure you, I don't look a day over 33.  I don't ever do anything for my birthday -- I'm making up for my youth, when I was greedy and sometimes kind of annoying about my birthday.  People are finally starting to catch on about my lack of enthusiasm.  I got a birthday card and teabag from Yorkshire Tea and my husband surprised me with a wee bottle of Chimay beer.  He got it at the grocery store yesterday.  What else did he get at the grocery store?  I'm glad you asked.

He missed the train after hiking yesterday (we won't get into why, but it's funny) and as a result, ended up with a bounty of reduced-price bread and produce. 

Bargain Bin Bread

This is about 2/3 of the original bargain bin bread bounty.  We've frozen some and scarfed down the rest.  Since most of the day has revolved around bread, I thought I'd make a list of things that go well with "the staff of life."

  • fruit 
  • vegetables
  • hummous
  • salady stuff
  • olives
  • beer
  • chocolate
  • soup*
  • dahl and other delightful curried sauces
  • sammich-type stuff
  • extra-virgin fancy-pants olive oil and the vinegar of your choice
  • margarine
  • tea
  • coffee
  • pickles
  • wine
  • mustard
  • ETA:  Crabby Ful Medames
  • Help a sista out here, I can't think of anything else!!!
(My husband likes it with Branston pickle, which is vegan, but I think it's gross.  Hummous and olives are probably my favourite.)

Here's a gratuitous post of the frugal fruits and value vegetables he scored.  Those bags of wee oranges were 10p a bag!

Frugal Fruits & Value Vegetables

My favourite kinds of bread are rye (any kind of rye is a friend of mine) and sourdough.  I've made bread a few times, but it always tastes yeasty..  My soda rolls are much better, although still nothing to write home about. 

I know this isn't the most exciting post (not post with the most!), but they can't all be zingers!  I think my post tomorrow shall be about kimchi jigae.  Souuuuup!*

*  I have a real knack for soup.  Seriously.  I have some weird amazing special ninja skill where I can taste soup and replicate it.  I make up for this by not being able to make any bakery-type stuff without a recipe.  This came in handy with this hot & sour soup I had at some citrus noodley place in San Francisco and this one sour tomato soup I had at a veggie restaurant in Lithuania (that was so good at Lunch, I went back for dinner and there was this Latvian bland playing and they spoke in English between songs because they didn't speak Lithuanian) -- it had pickles and black olives in it!!!  It was amazing and weird AND I can make a great imitation at home.

10 November 2010

Bodacious Borscht (and a wee confession...)

First, the confession -- I ate all the leeks in the curried veggie fried rice!  That was my dinner today, but my husband has the camera and he is out hiking, so I'll have to do a curry post on another day. 

Meanwhile, from the Crabby Vaults, may I present, Bodacious Borscht:  

with beetroot

I can't believe this is the only picture of borscht I have!  (That's a lame glob of soy yoghurt in the middle of the borscht, BTW.)

Anyway, here's what you need:

  • Shredded beetroots (I use 4-8 pre-cooked plain -- no sugar or vinegar -- they are easy to shred, otherwise if you use fresh ones, cube them)
  • tin of chopped tomatoes (optional, but highly recommended)
  • chopped onion (I chop it into 1/2-hoop slices)
  • 2-4 shredded carrots (or just choppped, if you don't have a food-processor to shred them for you)
  • 1/2-1 head shredded or finely chopped white or green cabbage
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 1 chopped and rinsed leek (optional)
  • lemon juice
  • red wine (optional)
  • cider vinegar (any vinegar, but cider is my fave)
  • dill (fresh is best, but dried will do)
  • 2 bay leaves (per giant pot)
  • salt
  • several black peppercorns or a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
  • oil
  • margarine (non-hydrogenated)
  • water
  • optional: celery seed, chopped parsley, vegan yoghurt or vegan sour cream

  • Plop a TBSP or so of margarine and a glug of oil (I use grapeseed because it has a higher burning temperature) in the bottom of a pot and heat.
  • Toss in your shredded carrots and onions and fry 'em until they are nice and mushy
  • Toss in the celery, cabbage, and leek (if you are using a leek), stir them around for a couple minutes.
  • Toss in the beets and add water, juice of 1/2 to one lemon (might as well toss the lemon in, too, just take it out before serving), a few glugs of red wine, and a couple glugs of cider vinegar (take it easy and do a few taste tests during cooking if you are worried about it being too sour)
  • Stir
  • Toss in the tinned tomatoes
  • Stir
  • Add the bay leaves (remove before serving.  or not.), dill, salt, peppercorns, and any other spices you fancy throwing in (like the aforementioned optional celery salt).  But please, be generous with the salt and dill.
  • Stir
  • Cook for 1 & 1/2 hours on a low simmer.

Serve hot or cold, optionally with a dollop of vegan yoghurt or vegan sour cream and a dash of dill or chopped fresh parsley.

This is enough for a honkin' big pot of soup. I usually skip the parsley and use a lot of dill.  Also, I've seen some versions that omit the tomato, some versions that add potato (I didn't like this one as much, personally), some versions that blend it all up, and some versions that strain everything and just make a dark broth.  They are all pretty delicious.

09 November 2010

Beans & Crabby Kale Stew

I'm eating this now.  It's a lazy, easy dish.  Just put it on the stove in the morning and leave it alone to cook until it's ready for lunch!  Also, it's fat-free.  Not on purpose or anything.  That's just how this recipe rolls, yo.

Bean and crabby kale stew

Soak beans (pinto, black, or black-eyed) overnight.  Drain.

Boil a pot of water with beans, coarsely chopped onion, and my Crabby Cajun Blend (recipe follows) to pot.

You want to boil everything for as long as it takes for the liquid in the pot to get nice and thick and opaque.  The beans should soften and start to crumble.  Once they are crumbly, it is safe to add soy sauce or salt.  Do NOT add salt before the beans are soft or they will NEVER get soft.  (This also seems to apply with tinned tomatoes.  I mean, the beans won't get soft, the tomatoes already are.)

Stir in some chopped kale.  Let it wilt and get a little less tough (you still want it to be chewy -- well, at least I do).

Big Momma's Crabby Cajun Blend:
  • Jalapeño or chili pepper of your choice
  • Bay leaf
  • Fresh sprigs of thyme
  • Equal parts garlic and ginger  (I just put in a whole clove (or more) of garlic and after an hour or so, smoosh them to smithereens with the back of a spoon)
  • Paprika
  • Cumin
  • Chili Powder
  • Oregano
  • Dash Turmeric

You can apply this spice, beans, and greens* combo in a ton of other ways.  Use greens instead of kale and add a cup of coconut milk for a tasty dish.  Add a tin of tomatoes!  Stir in some rice and make burritos.  Add more water for soup and less water for dip or burrito fillings.  Forget the greens and add sliced bell peppers.  Add chopped okra and make a gumbo.  Go crazy.  Add potatoes.  Eat it with nachos.  You get my drift.

Southern-style black-eyed peas, greens, 
potatoes, and tomatoes. 

*I like to do a little chant for my toddler to get him enthusiastic about food.  Okay, he already is, I'm just a ham:
Rice, beans, and greens, everybody!
Rice, beans, and greens, come on!
Rice, beans, and greens, everybody!
Rice, beans, and greens, come on!
--We got the rice,
--We got the greens,
--We got the beans and all the in-betweens!
I said-a-rice, beans, and greens, everybody!
Rice, beans, and greens, a-come on!
ad infinitum.

08 November 2010

Pseudo-Thai Curried Veggie & Rice Wraps


Wraps are pretty cool because they don't make a big mess -- you don't need utensils and your plate won't get very dirty -- if you're careful and lazy, you don't even need a plate.

I made these for lunch today:

Fry finely-sliced carrots and coarsely sliced onions in oil until the carrots get even orangier (unless you are using exotic purple carrots, in which case, I don't know what to tell you) and the onions start to get translucent (I used red onions, which are actually purple, but you get my drift -- anyway, use whatever onion suits your fancy).  Add ground cilantro & cumin, and chopped fresh ginger, garlic, & chili (I won't wave the finger of shame at you if you use powdered ginger, but you don't know what you're missing!  Also, I used a jalapeño pepper, but those nifty finger or birds-eye chili peppers are good, too.  Or you could just use chili flakes.  Or powder.)
Fry for no more than a minute and then add sliced bell peppers.  Toss, stir, or fold (your choice!) everything, so the veggies are covered in oily spices.

Veggies, oil, spices

Add coconut milk, tamarind pulp, lime juice, and soy sauce and give it a big ol' stir.  If you don't have any tamarind, just skip it.  That's a shame, because tamarind is really tangy and sour with the teeniest splash of sweet, but I understand that it is hard to get in some places (and by some, I mean predominantly white -- which brings me to another tangent -- you can get cheaper herbs and spices and a wider variety of them if you buy ones that are not marketed toward white people -- Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, you get the idea...).

Add coconut milk, tamarind pulp, lime juice, and soy sauce

Once your sauce starts to thicken, add some rice.  Stir everything together. 

Add the rice

I forgot the cilantro!!  Anyway, plop your veggie-rice mixture onto a warm tortilla wrap (I warm mine by putting them right over the pan for about 30 seconds and letting the steam from the food soften them up), toss on some fresh chopped cilantro (use the stems, too, they're tasty), wrap your wrap, and stuff it in your mouth.  Repeat, until you are out of wraps and/or veggie-rice mixture. 


Plate those babies up.  Daintily garnish with a big fat half of a lime.  If I am really hungry, I will secretly eat a wrap in the kitchen before bringing the wraps out, so it doesn't look like I got more wraps than everybody else.

07 November 2010


Okay, this VeganMoFo post is a total cheat* because I don't think I will be able to finish the blog I've been writing today, but here are 3 gazpacho recipes:

Grandma Peggy's Not-So-Secret Gazpacho Recipes

When my (late) maternal grandmother found out I was going vegetarian, she clipped and copied some veggie recipes for me.  The gazpachos were the first in the small series -- I had never even heard of gazpacho until I got these recipes from her.  It's cool that she was so supportive (she was pretty supportive when I went vegan, too).  She even introduced me to quinoa ("pronounced KEEN-WA," she wrote on a box). 

Okay, here's a bonus recipe.  Check out my Moroccan Couscous article in Tension Magazine (click the link, not the photo):



*  It is totally NOT out of season, however, if you are living in tropical climates or the southern hemisphere.

06 November 2010


A friend of mine posted a lovely blog about making gravy for her husband, even though she didn't exactly know how to make gravy.  The gravy she made was actually spot on, but more importantly, her blog made me want to blog about gravy.

Sweet potatoes, sage & onion 
cous-cous, and gravy!

Your basic gravy components are fat, flour, liquid, and salt.  You can jazz it up by adding herbs and spices and veggies and such and you can skip the fat (and salt) altogether, but let's just start with the fab four.

While I have made many a gravy using liquid fat, traditionally gravy is made using a solid fat.  I use a non-hydrogenated margarine ('Pure' -- the sunflower oil one).  The flour is usually white overly-processed wheat flour, but I have used whole wheat flour and I've seen gluten-free variations that use stuff like cornstarch, arrowroot, rice flour, and even xanthan gum.  The liquid is usually water or stock, but in some instances, I use unsweetened soy milk (more on that variation later).  The salt is obviously salt -- I use sea salt.  Proportions of the ingredients can vary depending on how rich or runny or thick or salty you want the gravy to be (I like really thick gravy on the salty side).

Another common ingredient is what I will call the browning agent.  In the US, this is typically either Kitchen Bouquet (recommended by my maternal grandmother and for the record, this is my preferred browning agent) or Gravy Master (recommended by my sister, who was kind enough to ship a bottle of each to me, since I can't find them here in Scotland) -- these are kind of like a condensed caramalised vegetable stock. (That's the best description I can come up with, okay?)  ;p  You might consider these 'cheats,' but I like to think of them as adding a little kitsch.  I mean, check 'em out:

Optional kitsch

Other browning agents you can use are Braggs Amino Acids (which I have not tried -- I don't know where to find them around here!!), Marmite, and Soy Sauce.   I'm sure there are more examples (please leave any ideas in the comments!), but those are what I came up with off the top of my head.  I don't particularly like using soy sauce in gravies (unless it's for an Asian-themed dish) and some people are a little weird about Marmite.

So, if you want to jazz your gravy up a bit more, you can also add herbs (sage and thyme seem to be the more common ones, I've also seen parsley -- more on that later), spices (like freshly ground pepper or a dash of cayenne), vegetables (like onions, shallots, or leeks) and even mushrooms.  Mmmmm.  Mushrooms.  Oh, yes, and dry sherry, dry white wine, dry vermouth, or Shiaoxing rice wine, if you're so inclined -- add these when you add the liquid.

So, here's a little how-to.  The gravy in the photos has onions and lemon-thyme:

Melt your margarine in the pan:

Melt the margarine

Sautee any veggies and toss in any herbs and spices (you may choose to add herbs and spices later, but I don't):

Frying the onions

Add flour.  Typically, the fat:flour ratio is 1:1, but it can vary, and honestly, I never measure them.  If you're not using a wheat flour, your ratio will probably not be 1:1.  The photo for this is a little blurry because I was in a hurry -- you don't want the flour to burn.  I just toss it in and stir because it mixes up really quickly:

Add the flour

Now add the liquid.  I am using a nice stock I made from the tops and tails of these comically tiny carrots we grew in our garden and some chopped carrot that I was boiling for my toddler:

The vegetable stock

Again, typically, people use about a cup of liquid per 2 tbsp of flour, but I eyeball it.  Add the liquid in installments, stirring it in whilst everything blends together nicely -- the flour will thicken and once the gravy starts looking a little too thick, add a bit more liquid.
Add the salt and browning agent -- salt to taste, but for browning agents, I'd suggest 1/4 tsp (just a few drops, really) per cup of liquid.
Hang out, stirring your lovely gravy, letting all your flavours blend together.  Have a little taste and adjust your seasonings, if you fancy.  Behold, now you have graaavy:


Now, a quick recap and some variations:

Easiest most basic gravy:  2 tbsp margarine, 2 tbsp flour, 1c water or stock,  1/4 tsp browning agent, salt to taste.

  • Béchamel sauce:  substitute unsweetened soy milk for the water or stock.  (Chef Cat Cora made a variation of this with Chinese 5-spice powder on Iron Chef America one time.)
  • Southern-style gravy:  pretty much the same as béchamel, although it usually has black pepper and a bit more fat.
  • Parsley sauce:  My mother-in-law made this.  It's a béchamel sauce with fresh parsley, but when I asked her what it was like, having never heard of "parsley sauce," she said it was "like cheese sauce only with parsley and not cheese."
  • Creamy Leek & Sage:  Béchamel with leek and sage.  I like this on veggie casseroles.  
  • Non-fat gravy:  Skip the fat, make a paste with flour and a little water, and start with that.  (You probably want to skip the onions in this, but if you don't, boil them in a little water until they turn clear and add the onions and the water you boiled then in at the same time you add the liquid.)
  • Low-fat mushroom gravy:  Fry finely chopped mushrooms (and onions, if you like) in a little oil -- add a splash of water to encourage the mushrooms to release their tasty juices.  Once you have a pan full of nice mushroom juice, make a paste with flour and a little water, add that to your pot, and work from there.

Okay, you get the gist -- the variations are endless!!

What are your favourite gravy recipes?  What do you like to put gravy on?

04 November 2010

Crabby Kimchi (pretty easy!)

There are a TON of kimchi recipes on-line, but this is how I make mine.  I tried a few variations, and this is the most straightforward and easy.  An awesome friend of mine mailed me authentic kimchi and this tastes about the same.

Sampling the Kimchi!

This is what you need:

Gochugaru -- Korean chili flakes -- clumpier and larger than chili powder, more flaky than powdery, and the bits are a bit smaller than chili flakes.  [My friend Eddie used to teach in Korea and brought me some (spices are great presents for people who love cooking) when he came to visit last year.  I'm almost out, though, so I need to find where to buy some on-line or something.]  I have yet to find an 'official' substitution, but I'm sure replacing it with a hot chili powder or tasty chili flakes would be fine.

Sea salt (or pickling salt -- I think even kosher salt and plain NaCl salt will do, just do NOT use iodised salt or a salt with an anti-caking agent or a low-sodium salt).

Napa Cabbage -- I have tried other cabbages and it is much trickier to salt-wilt them down.  The only substitution I would suggest would be sweetheart cabbage -- this is the cabbage that kind of looks like a cone -- and the kimchi I've made with it is always good.

Fresh garlic and ginger -- DO NOT USE POWDERS AS A SUBSTITUTE!!  If you do, I shall wave the finger of shame in your direction and your kimchi will be cursed and taste like poo! 

Old glass jars & lids -- old pickle jars and old sauerkraut jars are great.  I normally recommend using new lids when preserving food, but you don't need (or want -- because it will explode!) a tight seal for kimchi, so you can use old lids.  But please clean them first!

Please note:  Many kimchi recipes add a bit of sugar (at the same time that the chili, garlic, and ginger are added) to kick-start the fermentation process, but I don't.  My stuff still ferments.  The sugar is pretty much eaten up during the fermentation process, but I don't use it anyway.
Most recipes also add chopped green onion.  I don't.  I tried it once and didn't like the texture.  I love green onions, just not fermented in kimchi.

Here is an overview of the entire process:  Salt-wilt your cabbage, rinse it, add spices, pack it in jars, add brine, refrigerate.  Then it ferments and gets tasty and you eat it.

Step 1.  Salt-wilting:  

Basically, you coat your cabbage in salt, let it get all wilty, and rinse it.

Chop up your cabbage, including the stem.  [I like to chop it into 1-2" squares, but you chop it however you like.  You don't even have to chop it -- some recipes just quarter the head of cabbage and salt the quarters down and other recipes salt the leaves one-by-one and then roll them up before jarring them.]  Remove any gnarly bits.  Give it a rinse (not necessary, but the leftover drips of water on the cabbage help kick-start the salt-wilting), and put it in a glass or otherwise non-metallic bowl.  You need to get your salt and just shake a big fat layer all over the top.  (Some people say 2 tbsp for a whole head of cabbage, but I don't really measure it.)  Then toss the cabbage to make sure the salt gets evenly distributed. 

Now you need to wait for it to wilt.  A lot of recipes say to wait 3 hours, but wait overnight.  If you wait a couple days, that's still cool (I can only think it might be a problem if your kitchen is super hot).  Every time you pass the bowl of cabbage or go in the kitchen, give it a toss.  You will notice a little water pooling in the bottom.  This is leached out of the cabbage by our friend, salt.  The cabbage will reduce in size by about half and start to look wilty and translucent.

Salt-wilting the cabbage

Rinse the cabbage.  I read a recipe that says you need to rinse it 3 times, but I just rinse it once.

Taste your cabbage.  It should be salty, but not painfully salty.  If you have reached the scary painfully salty stage, soak the cabbage in water overnight and taste it again.  It should be okay now! 

Step 2.  Spicing: 

Basically, you add chopped garlic, ginger, and chili flakes to the cabbage.

Chop up garlic and ginger.  Toss garlic, ginger, and chili into the cabbage.  To make this easier, I like to make a quick "tea" out of them (I add the garlic, ginger, chili, and a pinch of salt to about 4 oz of hot water and let soak for about a minute so the chili flakes puff up a bit) and then pour the tea on the cabbage and toss until it is evenly distributed.

How much should you use?  Well, that's up to you.  I usually use 1-2 cloves of garlic and a walnut-sized piece of ginger per head of cabbage.  I use enough chili powder (1-2 tbsp or more) to make the cabbage look nice and red once everything is tossed together. 

Step 3.  Jarring: 

Pack the stuff into jars.  Add brine (a tsp or so of salt per cup of water -- again, you want it to be salty, but not painfully so).  You want the cabbage to pretty much be covered in the brine and you want at least 1/2" gap of air at the top.  Remember to poke and prod everything with a clean utensil to get out any air bubbles. 

Pop on the lid and let it just chill out in your refrigerator.

Making Kimchi

Step 4.  Patience:

Okay, you don't totally need to be patient.  You can eat some straight away (heck, I even eat some while it's still salt-wilting!), but it gets better as it ferments.  I recommend you taste a little every day to see how it changes.

I usually eat it raw, but once it starts getting really 'ripe' and fizzy-tasting, it's great for stir-fries, fried rice, and my favourite, kimchi jjigae -- a vegetable soup with kimchi in it.

Why won't kimchi kill you?  After all, it's fermenting and getting all weird and stuff!  It's pretty amazing, but there are a few reasons.  One is the high salt content, which inhibits the growth of those gnarly critters that make you ill and another is the fermentation -- the nice stomach-friendly fermenting bacteria (sometimes known as pro-biotics) don't let the evil meanie-bacteria live.
I read somewhere that for people who are new to preserving food, fermenting foods is actually safer than traditional canning because it is so much harder to "mess up" and meanie-bacteria are much less likely to invade your fermenting foods.

They say Kimchi has loads of health benefits (you look them up yourself -- isn't this blog entry long enough?).  I swear it temporarily cured my preggo-acid-reflux and I always have some if I'm suffering from intestinal woes. 

Let me know if you want me to make a post on kimchi jjigae!!  I've made two different kinds of kimchi soup and they are just about the most delicious thing ever.

Questions, puzzles, problems, typos?  Leave a comment!

Next time on The Crabby Crafter:  Graaavy!!

Making Sauerkraut

(I'm trying to make sauerkraut by this same method, minus the spices, shredding instead of squaring, and using 'regular' white cabbage.  I'll let you know how it turns out.)

03 November 2010

The Privilege of Being Vegan

I don't usually mention the v-word on my blog because my recipes are delicious  whether you're vegan or not, but it's VeganMoFo, the Vegan Month of Food:  http://veganmofo.wordpress.com/about/ -- like NaNoWriMo, except we write about food instead of how behind we are on our word count and how much caffeine we've consumed.  ;p  

Vegan food sometimes has the reputation of being boring and bland -- I have eaten stuff that looked and tasted like a cardboard box with a side of overboiled anaemic-looking veg, so I understand.  But it doesn't have to be this way and it usually isn't.  Don't let a few cardboard boxes fool you!  There is this other misconception that vegan food is often fake meat and cheese.  Yeah, that stuff is helpful for transitioning vegans, but overly processed foods are not the way to go.  And they are frickin' expensive!!  Vegan food is so cheap and easy if you stay away from overpriced processed stuff.

For VeganMoFo, I will mostly continue posting delicious recipes, but I want to write a few words about why veganism is about privilege and not denial.  

A lot of people don't get a choice about what they eat or drink.  They eat what they can to stay alive.  People starve to death.  People get sick because they don't have access to clean water.

We are privileged.  Not only is our tap (and toilet!) water usually potable, but major companies even sell bottled tap water.  We can say no to lima beans and brussel sprouts.*  We can leave food to rot and throw out our leftovers.**  We can sulk in front of the TV, drowning our woes in cupcakes or eat an entire bag of potato chips in one sitting.***  People are suffering from malnutrition, people are dying of starvation, and here I am eating hummous and making my own kimchi.****

So when someone tells me veganism is about denial, I tell them my diet is about privilege.  I've chosen veganism for many reasons, but I never forget how privileged I am to have that choice.

*  Although I never would.
**  I try not to do that.
***  I'm pretty sure I've never done that.
****  Recipe later this week!