Monday, December 15, 2008

And the Worst Blogger Award goes to......

ME, I'm sorry to say. I've neglected all my blogs this year, but I plan on being back in the saddle, or should I say, back in front of the computer in the new year.

Many of my faithful readers know that I own a rental house. Well, in April, I began eviction proceedings which took a very long time, and when I finally was able to regain possession of the house, the renters had totally trashed it. Every wall needed serious drywall repair, and one entire room (the largest one, of course) could not be repaired, so all the drywall had to come down. That was a blessing in disguise, because we found that the two full stack speakers had drawn so much juice that the wiring in that end of the room was fried. So, the entire room had to be rewired. They also removed every last bit of copper piping and wiring in the house, which ruined the air conditioner, heater and water heater - all of which needed to be replaced. Every light fixture was ripped apart, so they all needed to be replaced. The fridge and the stove had been kicked in, and all the inside shelving etc was missing, so they needed to be replaced. The under-sink plumbing in both bathrooms and the kitchen was missing, so that all needed to be replaced. Two of the three outside doors needed to be replaced, since you could see daylight through one "solid" door, and the sliders were cracked and the frame was bent. The screen room door and all the screens, as well as the light fixture and fascia board all needed to be replaced. All the carpets had major blood, pet and coffee stains and all needed to be replaced. The ceramic tile floor in the entry way, kitchen and dining room had many tiles that had been pried up and needed to be replaced. The wallpaper in the living room had blood stains all over it and needed to be replaced - they had been doing cock fighting in my living room! Argh! blind, shade and curtain was ruined and needed to be replaced.

When I first walked into the house, it looked like the floor was undulating - it was cockroaches. The house looked like something on HGTV - there were piles of clothing, food, garbage, dirty dishes, pots and pans, old mail all mixed together everywhere. There was human feces in the middle of the kitchen floor. The stench was unbelievable. I cried my eyes out when I first walked in.

But that is all a thing of the past! Just this week, my new renters signed a year-long lease and will take possession of my rental house on January 5th! Yay!

So, I will return to the land of the living once again! Thank you, everyone, for your patience, and I hope to "see" you on my blog in 2009!


Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Vegan's 100 List

The Vegan's 100 list was compiled by Hannah of Bittersweet . I found out about it from Bazu of Where's the Revolution a favorite Vegan blog I love to visit.

Hannah states " News travels pretty fast in the blogosphere, and the latest craze that’s been showing up on food blogs far and wide has been The Omnivore’s Hundred, a list of 100 foods that all omnivores should eat at some point in their lives. Well, I like the idea, but obviously that sort of thing just doesn’t fly with me. Instead, I present to you my revised list, The Vegan’s Hundred instead! Everything here is either naturally free of animal products or can be veganized, and just like the original, these foods vary from the every day to extraordinary, delectable and disgusting. They’re simply all of the things that, in my opinion, any vegan foodie should definitely sink their teeth into at least once."

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

1) Copy this list into your own blog, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten. (I have put mine in green)
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Post a comment at Bittersweet once you’ve finished and link your post back to it.
5) Pass it on!

1. Natto
2. Green Smoothie
3. Tofu Scramble

4. Haggis
5. Mangosteen
6. Creme brulee
7. Fondue
8. Marmite/Vegemite
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Nachos
12. Authentic soba noodles
13. Peanut butter & jelly sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Taco from a street cart

16. Boba Tea
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Gyoza
20. Vanilla ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Ceviche
24. Rice and beans
25. Knish
26. Raw scotch bonnet pepper (NEVER again!!!!!)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Caviar
29. Baklava
30. Pate
31. Wasabi peas
32. Chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Mango lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Mulled cider
37. Scones with buttery spread and jam

38. Vodka jelly
39. Gumbo
40. Fast food french fries
41. Raw Brownies
42. Fresh Garbanzo Beans
43. Dahl
44. Homemade Soymilk

45. Wine from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Stroopwafle
47. Samosas
48. Vegetable Sushi
49. Glazed doughnut
50. Seaweed
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Tofurkey

54. Sheese
55. Cotton candy
56. Gnocchi
57. PiƱa colada
58. Birch beer
59. Scrapple
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Soy curls
63. Chickpea cutlets
64. Curry

65. Durian
66. Homemade Sausages
67. Churros, elephant ears, or funnel cake
68. Smoked tofu
69. Fried plantain

70. Mochi
71. Gazpacho
72. Warm chocolate chip cookies

73. Absinthe
74. Corn on the cob
75. Whipped cream, straight from the can
76. Pomegranate

77. Fauxstess Cupcake
78. Mashed potatoes with gravy
79. Jerky
80. Croissants
81. French onion soup
82. Savory crepes
83. Tings

84. A meal at Candle 79
85. Moussaka
86. Sprouted grains or seeds
87. Macaroni and “cheese”
88. Flowers
89. Matzoh ball soup
90. White chocolate
91. Seitan
92. Kimchi
93. Butterscotch chips
94. Yellow watermelon
95. Chili with chocolate
96. Bagel and Tofutti
97. Potato milk
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Raw cookie dough

Clean Out the Fridge Soup Redux

Once again I looked in the fridge and saw too many leftovers, just little dribs of this and that. Yes, it is time to make soup! Yesterday I put all the vegetable trimmings that I've been saving in the freezer in the crock pot, about a quart's worth, covered them with water, added some garlic, basil, red pepper flakes and salt, and let 'er rip all day on low. The house smelled heavenly and the resulting stock was very tasty. The trimmings included parsley stems, lots of carrot peelings, potato peelings, onion ends and skins, bits of celery, ends of green beans, and some cilantro stems.

I used about 3 cups of the vegetable broth, about a half cup of some jarred spaghetti sauce and about a cup of the lentil-broccoli salad from a few days ago. Those all went into the pot, as well as a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes, and about four minced garlic cloves. It didn't seem to have enough "heft" so I looked in that box of canned goods I found last week and pulled out a can of Veg-All and put that in. I didn't even know that they still made that stuff! It tasted ok, but it needed something else, so I added some Soul Seasoning (a brand of seasoned salt), some basil, a few pinches of red pepper flakes and a splash of white wine. Yummy. Then I added in about a cup of small elbows and let them cook.

While the soup was cooking, I split two football shaped multigrain rolls, spread them with vegan margerine, sprinkled garlic powder, basil, and a bit of Soul Seasoning, and then toasted them in the toaster oven. The garlic toast was done at the same time as the soup. I had about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil left in the bottle, so I drizzled it on the bread.

What a yummy meal! We have nothing for dessert, unfortunately, but I guess we don't really NEED it..... Maybe I'll make some more chocolate tofu pudding later on tonight.

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know what your results are when you try clean out the fridge soup.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Fazool)

This is real comfort food for me. I went home last Thanksgiving, and my cousin made this one evening since her future daughter-in-law is a vegetarian. It was delicious, because Roseanne is a wonderful cook, but I had such a feeling of "home" as I ate it in that kitchen where I had eaten it so many times as a child. There are many recipes for this; you can make it with canned beans or dried, garbanzos (chick peas) or cannellini beans - they are all delicious.

One quick observation about Italian food here in America. American home cooks seem to LOVE to use something called Italian herbs. Now, just because it has the word "Italian" on the label does not mean that it is Italian in any way, you know. Italian herbs are delicious and have their uses, but they are too heavy on the oregano to be truly Italian. Real Italians use a lot of basil and lot of rosemary, but very little oregano. In fact, I think that Greek cooks use much more oregano than Italians, and so do Mexican cooks. So, refrain from using Italian herbs in this dish because it will be to heavily and sharply spiced with oregano.

Pasta e Fagioli

1 1/2 C dry beans, soaked overnight, or 2 - 15 oz cans, drained
3 Tbs olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary, or 1 tsp dried
1 tsp dry basil
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 - 15 oz can of diced tomatoes in juice
3 C vegetable broth
1 1/2 C pasta of your choice: try elbows, ditalini, small penne or rotini
salt and pepper to taste

To pressure cook: In pressure cooker, saute the celery, onion, carrot, and garlic in the olive oil till the onions begin to brown. Stir in the beans, herbs, tomatoes and broth. Place cover on the pressure, bring to high pressure, and cook for 15 minutes at 15 lbs. Let the pressure drop naturally. Check beans for doneness and pressure cook two or three minutes more if necessary. Don't overcook beans - they should retain their shape and still be firm, but cooked all the way through. When beans are cooked, stir in the dry pasta and cook uncovered for 6 or 7 minutes until the pasta is al dente.

To cook in a crock pot: Saute the vegetables as above and place in crock pot, along with the beans. Use only 2 1/2 C broth. Cook on hi heat and cook as follows: cannellini - 3 hours; great northern - 2 1/2 hours; navy - 3 hours, garbanzos - 4 hours. Cook the pasta separately and add to the mixture when beans are done, unless you have a metal crockpot liner that can go onto a burner as I do.

To cook on top of the stove: Proceed as for the pressure cooker, but gently simmer the beans, covered, as follows: cannellini - 60 minutes ; great northern - 45 minutes; navy - 60 minutes; garbanzos - 20 minutes.

To use canned or previously cooked beans: Saute the vegetables and proceed as for the pressure cooker, but leaving the beans out. Simmer for 10 - 15 minutes to let the flavors meld. Add the drained beans and the pasta at the same time, and simmer long enough for the pasta to be cooked al dente.

Serve garnished with a pinch of red pepper flakes and drizzle of your best cold pressed virgin olive oil. Serve a green salad and crusty bread on the side, along with a nice fruity wine. Fruit makes the perfect dessert.

Note: Occasionally when I'm too lazy to measure out three herbs, I use an equal amount of Herbes de Provence which is very yummy in this dish. You can also pressure cook beans without presoaking them, which I've done many, many times. It takes about 45 - 60 minutes for them to cook. Don't be afraid of the pressure cooker - I received one as a wedding present in 1979 and have used them ever since. Since then, I've replaced that old one with a modern Fagor, which is not only perfectly safe, but foolproof! In all these years, I've never, ever had any problems using a pressure cooker. You'll be amazed at quickly you can make dishes that used to take forever to cook, and how you can decide at the last minute to make a dish that tastes like its been simmering all day. Try it!

Serves four hungry Italians. Maybe it will serve 6, but it never has in my house.

Five stars PLUS!

Mixed Salsa Vegetables

I've been unpacking boxes in my garage; sometimes I find treasures and sometimes I scratch my head and ask myself, where did this stuff come from since it surely cannot be mine! Saturday evening was one of THOSE moments -- I found a very large box full of canned and packaged goods that never in a million years would I have bought. I know that the last year of my mother's life, she and Dad used to go to the dollar store and to Big Lots and come home with .... interesting.... stuff, stuff that she had never, ever bought in my lifetime, and I guess this box is full of that stuff. There are all kinds of cheap canned vegetables (not salt free or organic), boxes of muffin mix, a big bag of dry stuffing, jars of pickles and other things I haven't even looked at. I'm not sure if its a treasure trove or a junk pile, but in a weird way, its a booby prize from my mother, and never let it be said that she didn't have a sense of humor!

Since it was my team's turn to bring trapeza on Sunday, I decided to use up some of these canned vegetables. So, I steamed baby carrots, then added string beans, potatoes and a jar of salsa, and I have to say, that yucky canned flavor was masked and they were very tasty! Lots of people remarked how yummy they were, and there were basically no leftovers - maybe a cup or so. These veggies are Southern style - soft. If you want crispy veggies, you'll have to use fresh or frozen veggies and not canned. This is so tasty, quick and easy, you'll be amazed!

Mixed Salsa Vegetables
1 lb baby carrots
2 - 1 lb cans Italian green beans
2 - 1 lb cans sliced new potatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 - 16 oz jar mild salsa
drizzle of olive oil

Drizzle the bottom of a dutch oven with olive oil, and saute the carrots about five minutes over med-high heat. Add 1/4 C water, cover tightly, then steam for about 3 minutes just until the carrots are al dente. Drain and rinse the green beans and potatoes, then add them to the pot, along with the garlic and the salsa. Stir well, then cover and let cook on low heat for about 10 minutes to let the flavors meld.

Notes: At this point, I took the pan off the heat and put it in the fridge overnight. It was reheated just prior to liturgy's end. By the time we ate it, the flavor had really had a chance to develop - maybe 15 or 16 hours or so. The flavor of the salsa is important in this dish, but since I used mild salsa that I would NEVER choose to eat, I was concerned that the dish would taste yucky and that I'd have to do a lot of doctoring, but I was wrong. By trapeza, the dish had interesting contrasts - sweet carrots and tomatoes, meltingly soft green beans, and still slightly al dente potatoes. I liked it. I now stand corrected in my prejudice against off brand canned vegetables - canned potatoes in particular!

You could easily make this into a main dish with the addition of any sort of protein source - beans, cheese, firm tofu, flavored seitan. In fact, if I find more veggies in that box and some more salsa, I might try it with fajita style seitan added!

Since there were no leftovers, unfortunately, there is no picture as well, but I have to say that the orange, white, green and red made for a very visually appealing dish.

Serves 12 to 15 as a side dish

Three stars for me, Four stars if you like the flavor of canned potatoes to begin with!

Microwaved Apple Crisp

Back in the early 1980s, when Church of the Redeemer began serving vespers every Saturday evening, the choir began having dinner together afterwards every week, and eventually everyone would end up at my house for a movie or a game of trivial pursuit - and dessert with espresso! My 12 cup Bialetti stove top really got a work out! Those were very, very fun days. I never knew how many people would come over - it could be 4 or 6, or it could be 20, especially if "the boys" came over (now two of them are Fr. Theodore and Fr. Paul, but together with a few others, they were just "The Boys" back then). Although I'd prepare a dessert or two, there were times when there were more people than I expected, and I needed to make something quick and easy from foods I always had in my pantry. I had just purchased a brand spanking new microwave, so I developed a few microwave recipes to fit the bill - this is one that has remained a quick and easy family favorite. I remember doubling the recipe and cooking two pie plates worth, one after the other, on many occasions. Those were good times back on Mayflower Court as Marge and Taft's neighbors.

Microwaved Apple Crisp

2/3 C brown sugar, packed well
1/2 C all purpose white flour
1/2 C rolled oats
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/3 C vegan margerine (like Earth Balance), room temperature
4 - 5 large apples.

Put first five ingredients in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until well mixed and crumbly. Core and peel 4 - 5 apples, then slice them into an ungreased 10 inche microwavable quiche dish or 9" pie plate. Sprinkle the topping over all and microwave, uncovered, on high for 5 minutes. Test apples for doneness with a sharp knife, cooking for another minute if necessary. Scoop out into dessert dishes and serve with vanilla soy yogurt, or a scoop of vanilla vegan ice cream.

Time from apple to plate: about 15 minutes

Serves six without any topping, and eight if you serve with a big scoop of vegan vanilla ice cream.

Five stars!

Note: About the timing for this when you are in a real rush, take the margerine out first, slice it into pats and let it come to room temperature while you are peeling and slicing the apples. By the time you are through, the butter will be ready, and you can make the topping in no time flat. If you use unsalted margerine, you will need to add a pinch of salt to the topping, because it just seems flat without it - I often made this completely salt-free for my mother over the years, and the difference in flavor was very obvious.

Portobella Mushrooms with Warm Broccoli Lentil Salad

I got a recipe similar to this one years ago, and over the years, have played with it. No matter what I've done, it has remained a family favorite ever since. Its deceptively simple, but is delicious and makes a nice enough presentation to serve to company.

Quick hint about timing: Put the water on to boil before you do anything else, then put the mushrooms in the oven, then get the broccoli going, then cook the onions, then the get the lentils going, and lastly, make the dressing.

For the Mushrooms
4 large Portabello mushrooms, brushed clean
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450F. Lightly oil a baking sheet and place the mushrooms on the sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, or your favorite seasoned salt. I particularly like Greek Seasoning for this, or Tony Chachere's. Bake uncovered until tender, about 20 minutes. Set aside

For the Salad
16 oz of broccoli florets
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups of brown lentils
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 C nuts or sunflower seeds

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil, add broccoli and cook until tender, about 6 or 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the broccoli from the boiling water and put into a large salad bowl. When all the broccoli is removed, add the lentils, lower heat to a simmer, partially cover, and cook the lentils until al dente - tender, but still holding their shape and definitely not mushy - about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils into the salad bowl. In a frypan, saute the onion and garlic in a tablespoon or so of olive oil until translucent, but not more. Add to the salad bowl. Using the same frypan, add another drizzle of olive oil, and saute the nuts or seeds until they are golden brown and toasty tasting. Be careful that you don't burn them. Add all the nuts to the salad except a couple of teaspoons to use as garnish.

For the Dressing
1/4 C olive oil
3 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp prepared Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp minced fresh thyme, or a heaping 1/2 tsp dry thyme
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Whisk all ingredients together and pour over the salad.

Toss the salad well - everything will still be warm. Taste for salt, pepper and vinegar, and adjust to your taste.

Plate it with the mushroom on the bottom, a large mound of the lentil mixture on top, and then garnish with a sprinkle of the reserved toasted nuts or seeds.

Serves four generously

Notes: This is just as delicious without the mushrooms, but they add a warm earthiness that elevates this dish to company fare. I use my toaster oven to bake the mushrooms - its a lot less bother. You could probably get a similar flavor by sauteing a half pound of mushrooms with the onions and mixing them into the salad, but it sure won't be as pretty! This is yummy cold, or even the next day, though sometimes it needs a splash more of vinegar and salt to brighten the flavor. I've also mixed in about 1/4 C of chopped parsley which was tasty, and also have tried the same amount of chopped cilantro. When I made it with the cilantro, the next day I stirred in a chopped tomato and it was really, really delicious. When it is not Lent, try it with some goat cheese or feta crumbled on top -- my mouth is watering right now! I've made the dressing with balsamic, lemon just and also with plain old garden variety red wine vinegar, and they are all delicious, though I actually like the red wine vinegar in this best.

Add a salad and a glass of wine, and its a complete meal. The perfect dessert is an orange. It really is!

From lentils in a bag to dinner plate - about 40 minutes.

Five stars!

Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy from Vegan with a Vengeance

Yes, you read correctly. Vegan with a Vengeance is a new cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz which is getting a lot of raves in vegan circles. In fact, one recipe of hers, Mashed Potatoes with Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy, is so popular, that I decided to try it today. Don't let the seemingly odd combination or long list of ingredients throw you - it is absolutely delicious! Something even an avowed plain meat and potatoes person would find tasty. Even the pickiest kid will find this tasty. And even though there is a long list of a pinch of this and a pinch of that - its not spicy at all, its very mild and delicious, much MUCH tastier than the fake chicken or beef gravy that you get from a packet of dry gravy mix. Much. This is made from stuff you most likely already have in your pantry, except for the mustard seeds and the nutritional yeast, and see my notes for substitutions.

I made the recipe exactly as written, but next time.... Some WINE! YES!

Mash 2 lbs of potatoes - you know what to do. If you don't, email me and I'll send you a recipe.
While they are cooking, get to work on the gravy.

Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy
makes about 3 cups

1/4 C all purpose flour
Approximately 2 1/2 C water
1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium sized onion, quartered and sliced thin
2 tsp mustard seeds
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 C cooked chickpeas, or 1 can, rinsed and drained
2 pinches ground cumin
2 pinches paprika
1 pinch dried rosemary
1 pinch dried thyme
1 pinch dried oregano
1 pinch dried coriander
3 Tbs soy sauce
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 C nutritional yeast

Mix the flour with 2 cups of water until the flour is mostly dissolved. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, onions and mustard seeds; cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are browned and the mustard seeds are toasted. Add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes more. Add the chickpeas; use a potato masher to mash them -- you don't want to mash them into a paste, just make sure each one is broken up although if there are a few whole ones left, that is ok. Add the herbs and spices, soy sauce, and lemon juice. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits of onion. Lower heat and pour the flour mixture into the pan. Stir constantly until a thick gravy forms. Stir in the nutritional yeast. If it looks too thick and pasty, add more water and mix well. It may look like it doesn't want any more water added to it, but just keep mixing and it will loosen up. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Notes: I didn't have any mustard seeds, so I used 1/2 tsp of ground mustard powder instead, and added with the onions as the recipe said. I tasted the gravy before I added the nutritional yeast, because I'm not a big fan of nutritional yeast, and the gravy was yummy without it, but I decided to make the recipe as written. Am I glad that I did! It was good before, but with the nutritional yeast, it was simply divine! Isa says that once you eat this gravy, you will make it once a week. I concur.

This is a very filling meal. Add a salad and that's all you'll want to eat. Trust me on this. Serves 4 to 6.

Five stars!!!

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Tonight is my rehearsal night for I Cantori, so I wanted a quick and easy dinner. I've got about half the pot of black bean soup sitting in the fridge, so I thought I would use some to make Cuban Black Beans and Rice. First, I got the rice cooking - I made our usual, "everyday" rice, which is one part of pasta sauteed in butter until toasted to two parts of rice to four parts of water. I normally use crumbled fideos or orzo for this, and margarine works just as well as butter. Once the rice was simmering away, I got to work on the black beans.

Cuban Black Beans (Moros y Christians)

1 large onion, halved and then sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red or green pepper, halved and then sliced
1 heaping tsp dried oregano
1/4 C dry sherry
2 pinches cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
cayenne to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp)
salt to taste (I used about 1 tsp)
2 C black bean soup

Over med-hi heat, saute the onion in a drizzle of olive oil (what else?), add the garlic, then the green pepper. Add the oregano, cinnamon, cumin, about 1/2 tsp salt and a few pinches of cayenne. Saute all together until onions are translucent. Pour in the sherry, and keep sauteing until the sherry is absorbed. Add the black bean soup, stir well, and then heat through. Let simmer for a few minutes to let the flavors meld while waiting for the rice to cook. When the rice is ready, taste the black beans for salt and pepper and adjust the seasonings.

This is a very simple, quick and easy dinner, and its delicious too. It can be garnished with chopped onions, pickled jalapenos, or chopped cilantro.

Notes: I used leftover black bean soup, but you could use canned plain black beans and double the spices, and add more sherry and some water till its the right consistency. Or, you could use a 16 oz or larger can of black bean soup. I used half a red pepper and half a green pepper, because that's what I had. The flavor of the sherry and the peppers are important to this dish, and there should be enough just cayenne that there is a bit of a "tang" to the dish. It should not be really hot.

Total time: however long it takes to cook your rice - mine is done in 20 minutes.

Serves four, when served with rice

Four stars!

Lebanese Green Beans in Oil

When I was engaged, I spent a lot of time at my future mother-in-law's house, gobbling up all her exotic Lebanese food. She was one terrific cook! I clearly remember eating this dish for the first time - she cooked it so slow and so long that not only the onions, but also the green beans themselves were carmelized. Yummy. This is the most simple dish ever - you'll ask yourself, now why didn't *I* think of that?

Middle eastern food has a reputation for being very intricate, with lots of spices, and in some respects that is true. But all the wonderful Arabic cooks that I met over the years agree about vegetables - buy the very best quality, prepare them simply, and dress them with olive oil. This dish follows that advice perfectly.

(I hope my limited store of Arabic hasn't left me completely, and that I spelled it right below! Other than liturgical Arabic, I only learned the words for food - go figure - an endearment or two, and a couple of "colorful" phrases. A big thank you to Taft Hanna and Mary Salah who answered my endless questions about what everything meant, and to Marge Hanna, a fellow Italian, and the very best Arabic cook I ever met, who taught me pretty much everything I know about cooking Arabic style, and what it means to be an Orthodox woman, just as if I was one of her daughters. I've lost touch with them over many years and many moves, and I hope and pray that they are all well and happy.)

Lubee bi Zait (Stringbeans in Olive Oil)

1 lb string beans, ends snapped and washed
1 large onion, sliced very thinly
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
Garnish with sauteed pine nuts (optional - I used pumpkin seeds)

Saute the onions over medium heat in the oil until they are translucent and the edges are just beginning to turn golden. Add the string beans, sprinkle well with salt, and continue to saute for a few minutes. Add about a half cup of water, cover tightly for 3 or 4 minutes until the string beans are al dente, then uncover. Raise the heat to high to boil off the water; when that happens, add a drizzle more of olive oil to keep everything from sticking, and add the garlic. Continue sauteeing everything together until the onions are carmelized and the string beans are cooked to your taste. Taste for salt and pepper.

NOTES: As is always the case with carmelized onions, the more you have, the better everything tastes, so don't be afraid that your onion is too big or that you are using too many. Its important to add the garlic near the end, because carmelized garlic has an unpleasant bitter taste. Use the best olive oil you can, because the flavor of it is important to this dish. This dish is just as delicious cold or room temperature as hot, and is better the second day, if it lasts that long. This dish takes a lot of salt - I used about a half teaspoon, maybe a little more. I wouldn't use broth instead of water in this dish, because it is the flavor of the olive oil and the carmelized onions that should shine. You can cook this dish extremely slowly for almost an hour, and the string beans will become very soft and very carmelized -- this is the MOST delicious dish ever! But who has time for that nowadays, especially when dear daughter is begging for dinner?

You could easily make this a one-dish dinner by adding sliced potatoes to the saute, and a drained can of chickpeas.

This would also be delicious made asian-style using peanut oil for the sauteeing, adding a little grated ginger and soy sauce near the end of the cooking time, and dressing it with a few drops of roasted sesame oil - just a few drops because that is pretty potent stuff.

This was a big hit with dear daughter. She could have eaten the entire pound, and was rather annoyed that I insisted on having some.

Total time, including prepping the beans - about 20 minutes or so.

Serves four as a side dish, or Elisabeth

Five stars!

Black Bean Soup

Today, I felt like eating black bean soup. Over the years, I've perfected my recipe for black bean soup. I started with a recipe from the Westin Hotel in San Franciso, who make very delicious black bean soup. Years and years ago, the San Jose Mercury News ran their recipe and I made it - and I absolutely loved it. Then I couldn't resist tinkering with it, making it vegan, making it non-vegan. Everyone who eats my black bean soup really likes it, and I hope you will too! Its got a bit of a spicy bite to it, but it is not super hot - if you like it really hot, then you'll have to add hot sauce to your bowl. This will be waiting for us after church today. The house smells so good already!

Black Bean Soup

1 lb dry black beans, rinsed and picked over
2 1/2 quarts water
1 large onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 - 3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbs chili powder
1 1/2 tsp oregano
scant 1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1/4 - 1 tsp Liquid Smoke to taste

Basically, all you do is put everything in a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for 2 - 3 hours until the beans are tender. I've got mine simmering in the crock pot on high, and will probably let it cook for 3 - 4 hours. When beans are tender, taste for salt, and then remove 1 1/2 cups of beans, puree, and add them back into the soup to thicken it.

Serve with lots of garnishes: vegan sour cream, vegan shredded cheese, guacamole, minced onion, minced green pepper, olives, chopped cilantro, chopped avocado, corn relish, chopped tomato, hot sauce.

NOTES: This soup thickens up on the next day and makes a good filling for burritos together with rice.

Serves 4 to 6

Five Stars!

Curried Pea Dip

Yesterday, I was unpacking a moving box in the garage, and found a can of peas in a box of books. That's what happens when you hire a company to pack up your stuff. Anyway, I don't think I've EVER bought canned peas.... but there it was, mysteriously packed in a box of books. I remembered that Diane told me a very long time ago that she whizzes peas with chicken broth in a blender and pours it over pasta, so I figured, why not? It turned out YUMMY and is completely gone - ergo, no photo.

Curried Pea Dip

1 can of peas, rinsed and drained well
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs tahini
1/4 C lime juice
2 Tbs olive oil plus more
2 Tbs curry powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
salt to taste

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a small fry pan, and saute the curry powder. If you don't do this, then it will have a chalky taste that I just don't like. Place the curry, peas and everything else in the blender or food processor, and let it whiz. Pour additional olive oil through the top until you have the consistency that you want. Taste for salt and adjust.

This was really very good. At least I think so - it was gone before I could really get a good mouthful!

Four stars!

Feeds four, or Elisabeth.

NOTES: I don't think I'd waste the tahini on this again because the flavor was masked by the curry. You could probably make this low fat by using only enough olive oil to fry the spices, and using broth to thin to the desired consistency, because the flavor of the olive oil was masked by the curry powder. I think lime juice is more sour than lemon juice, so if you use lemon juice, you may need to use more.

This turned out so well that I might try other vegetable based dips. Gingered carrot sounds yummy, don't you think? Or maybe a spinach dip that tastes just like fatayer?

ABOUT DIPS AND SPREADS: I find that if I don't have a healthful dip in the house, the ubiquitous pretzels get dipped in plain sour cream, or nutella, and the level of junk food consumed by my teen goes up dramatically. Thankfully, she is not a lover of chips and loves pretzels instead, which make terrific, relatively healthy dippers. Dips make great sandwiches as well, unless you make them too loose. We use good quality bread with some nutrition and some chewiness (drag out that breadmachine, ladies!) to stand up to the wetness of the dip. Use the dip instead of mayo or mustard, and layer the veggies and cheese (vegan or regular). We always use some sliced tomato, and often add shaved carrots as well (use your potato peeler for this). Yum! I'm hungry for lunch now!

Clean Out the Fridge Soup

Yesterday when I opened the fridge at lunchtime, I saw a lot of little tupperware containers, all with just a few spoons of food. I was hungry, and dd was STARVING TO DEATH as she informed me, so lunch had to be quick and filling. I made soup from the leftovers.

This is what I did: I sauteed an onion in a dab of olive oil, with about 2 cloves of garlic, minced. While that was going, I took out all the little containers, and one by one, added them to the pot. They included about a cup of the tomato soup from last week, about 3/4 of a cup of the gado gado veggies (I chopped these up further so they would fit on a spoon, and a cup of a pasta-rice pilaf. The tomato soup didn't give enough liquid, so I added "enough", maybe a cup or two of part water and part wine. Then I added a few cubes of Knorr vegetarian bouillion (I'll be glad when these are gone because I like another brand better and the little cubes are a pain to unwrap), some salt and pepper, and a heaping teaspoon of Herbes de Provence. I let it all simmer for about 10 minutes or so.

While I was foraging in the fridge, I noticed that there was a half loaf of the maple oatmeal bread tightly wrapped, so we had slices of this yummy bread with the soup. What a yummy meal it made - we both had one huge bowl and a slice or two of bread. There was about 1/3 cup left, and our little doggie really enjoyed it for lunch as well!

For dinner, we ate the Arabic pilaf from the night before. There is still some more of that in the fridge - I think I'll probably use it to stuff something, once my check clears and I can go food shopping, that is!

Four stars!

Don't waste!

A Note About Fasting and Frugality

I've been asked a number of times about the Orthodox Church and fasting. The Orthodox Church provides a number of "tools" to assist us humans who live in a fallen and broken world, draw nearer to God, and fasting is one of these tools. The Church considers it so important and useful a tool, that every Wednesday and Friday are fast days, and there are four major fast periods each year (Great Lent to prepare for Pascha, the Apostles Fast leading up to the the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Theotokos Fast during the first two weeks of August which lead up to the Dormition of the Theotokos - the Assumption for you western Christians, and St. Philip's Fast which is aka Advent. A fast period is a time of renewal, recommittment and preparation, during which we are to eat less, pray more, perform more works of mercy and charity, and to generally free ourselves from the cares of the world so that we can draw closer to God.

The basic tenets of fasting Orthodox-style are absention from meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. A stricter fast might also prohibit olive oil and wine except on certain days, or eating only one meal after sundown. If you know 10 Orthodox people, then you also know 10 different ways of fasting because there are no hard and fast rules regarding this particular ascesis. I think of fasting as medicine for the cure of the soul, medicine that is prescribed for an individual, taking into account all aspects of that individual's life. So, fasting is never undertaken without some guidance from a spiritual father. For example, when I first became Orthodox, I was full of zeal and wanted to immediately fast extremely strictly, but Fr. John, a wise man, told me to cut out meat only and to pray more, especially for those people I found irritating. I thought that wasn't strict enough, but as the weeks progressed and I fell again and again, I saw the wisdom in his words.

Another aspect of fasting is that it should be a means of simplifying your life so that you have more time to practice more spiritual pursuits. If we're spending all day thinking about what to cook for dinner, or turning out multicourse feasts to take the place of meat on our plates, then we've missed the point. This is of particular importance to me, because I'm a foodie. I'm Italian, and I love food. I love everything about it - I love to think about it, shop for it, prepare it, eat it, watch others eat it, watch food tv, read cookbooks. Food is love to me, and I feed those I love. Those who have eaten at my table know that "abbondanza" or abundance doesn't even begin to describe it! Grin... I love exotic cuisines and ingredients, and spend a lot of time seeking them out.

But during fast periods, I try to be more frugal. I try to eat simply - a main dish and a veggie, or maybe two veggies. I try to eat what I have in my pantry rather than shopping all the time. I try to never throw any food away - I try to use it all up and not waste. My Italian grandmother, who lived through extreme poverty with 15 mouths to feed during the Depression, explained to me as a child that frugality was buying the best quality that you can afford, and then using every bit of it, wasting nothing. My mother told me her favorite memory of her grandfather; how he brought one perfect orange to the house in the depths of a Depression winter, carefully peeled and sectioned it, thanked God for it, and then shared it among his six little grandchildren. My mother sat on his lap eating her slice, and said it was the best orange she ever ate, her whole life long. She said it tasted like sunshine. Then, he took the peelings to the stove and candied them, and it was those very candied peelings that went into the pizza dolce that Easter. The best quality that he could afford, thanks to God, share with everyone, and waste nothing.

So, I save the ends of onions and carrots and other vegetable peelings in the freezer. When the bag is full, I dump it in a pan and cover it with water and wine or lemon juice with some herbs, and after simmering for an hour or two, or all day in the crock pot, I have a couple of quarts of rich vegetable broth, ready for freezing. I transform leftovers into scrambles, burritos, soups, sandwiches, stir-fries or pates. I save the ends of bread and make my own breadcrumbs. I have a brown thumb, so I don't have a vegetable garden, but maybe this year my dd will grow us some tomatoes.

My household used to consist of four people, but now there are only two. So, I continue to cook for four people, but freeze the other two portions for a quick and easy meal on a night when I'm rushed and don't have time to cook. This cuts down on fast food meals and Healthy Choice entrees, and saves me a TON of money.

So there are my thoughts about fasting and frugality. Your mileage may vary.

Arabic Cabbage and Rice Pilaf

Arabic Cabbage and Rice Pilaf

This is really a take on my favorite recipe for Lenten Lebanese-style grape leaf stuffing. Lenten grape leaves are my favorite - I love them MUCH more than the meat and rice ones, but I find rolling grape leaves a real time-consuming pain. So, I decided to adapt the recipe to a pilaf - all the flavor, none of the work! Just the kind of recipe that I like!

Arabic Cabbage and Rice Pilaf

1 or 2 coarsely chopped onions
2 or 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil - the flavor of the oil is important in this dish
8 oz finely shredded cabbage
1 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon mixed (can use apple pie spice)
1 to 2 tsp dried mint
2 Tbs dried parsley, or 1/4 C minced fresh
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 C pine nuts, toasted (I used sunflower seeds as a substitute)
1 - 15 oz can of chopped tomatoes in juice
1 - 15 oz can chickpeas
1/2 C raisins
1 1/2 C white rice
Lemon or lime juice to taste

Using a 4 or 5 quart pot, saute the onion in the oil over high heat until beginning to brown, then add the cabbage, salt, mint, parsley, Arabic spices, pepper and thyme until the cabbage is wilted and beginning to carmelize a bit. By this time, the onions will be somewhat carmelized. Drain the chickpeas and add to pot. Drain the tomatoes, reserving the juice, and add the tomatoes to the pot. Stir well. Add the rice and stir well, adding a dash more of olive oil if needed. Add the raisins and stir. To the reserved tomato juice, add enough water to make 3 cups, and pour over all, stirring well to combine. Bring to simmer, cover tightly, lower heat to a low simmer, and cook rice for 25 minutes until tender. Fluff with a fork. Squeeze half a lemon or lime over each portion.

Note: Since 1979, I've used a mixture of allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon which I call Arabic spices. Last year, I ran out while cooking, and a search of my spice shelf yielded no nutmeg either, but I did have a small container of apple pie spice. It smelled the same.... I stuck my finger in, and it tasted the same.... So, I used it in the recipe -- and it tasted precisely the same! And, its a lot cheaper to buy it already mixed than to mix it myself, so that's what I do nowadays.

Lemon juice and lime juice work equally well in this recipe, and its very tasty without any citrus as well. If you don't use citrus, you may need to up the salt. Garnish each portion with toasted nuts.

If you are doing an olive oil fast, just saute the onions and cabbage in some veggie broth, making sure that all the broth is absorbed before going on with the recipe. Or, you could just dump everything in a rice cooker and let 'er rip! I've done that with excellent success, too!

This makes a delicious main course pilaf. Serve with a fruity white wine and a lemony salad for a complete meal.

Five stars!

Chocolate Amaretto Tofu Pudding

Chocolate-Amaretto Tofu Pudding

1 - 10 oz aseptic package silken tofu
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate bits, melted
2 Tbs dutch process cocoa powder
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs amaretto

Whiz it all in the blender. Try to pour it into dessert dishes before you eat it all. Yummy!

Four servings

Five stars

"Cream" of Tomato and Basil Soup

Last night I made tomato basil soup using my vitamix, but any blender, or even immersion blender, will work just as well. This is one of those go-to recipes that take just a minute or two, are sure-fire crowd and kid pleasers, and can be made from items you have in your pantry. This recipe is adapted from the vitamix website.

Tomato - Basil Soup

6 oz can of tomato paste
1/2 large onion
1 carrot, chunked
1 small baked potato (with skin)
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
4 Knorr veggie bouillion cubes (I like Vogue Vege Base better)
4 C boiling water
1 tsp dried basil
fresh basil leaves for garnish
1/2 cup non-dairy creamer (optional)

Microwave onion, carrot and potato till cooked. Place everything except the creamer in the blender and whiz until pureed. Stir in the non-dairy creamer at the end, and garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Note: This is yummy with 2 Tbs butter blended in during non-fast periods. If your soup is too thin for your taste, use a bigger potato, or even two. The potato gives a texture and a creaminess reminiscent of dairy products. For more creaminess, add 3 or 4 almonds and whiz until they are completely pureed - this is best done in a high-powered blender like a Vitamix or a K-Tec. The almonds give a creamy mouth feel, just like cream, and do not alter the flavor much. This recipe multiplies very well.

Serve this with a sandwich. We ate quesadillas with refried black beans, salsa and vegan cheese with it.

Makes four large bowls

Four stars

Gado Gado

Don't be afraid of the foreign-sounding name and the long list of ingredients! Its just veggies with the most yummy peanut sauce - everyone likes peanut butter, right? This is a perfect way to use up those pesky leftover steamed veggies sitting in your fridge!

This was my first attempt at Gado Gado, which is basically an Indonesian composed salad dressed with peanut sauce. I've made peanut sauce for years, but never this particular version. It turned out yummy, but with just a bit too much raw onion flavor. The recipe below has been adjusted.

Here is the quickest way to get this on the table: put water on to boil, then slice onion for garnish and get that sizzling in the pan. Next, quickly put the sauce together so the flavors can meld a bit. Next, chop and slice the veggies, or purchase already-sliced veggies for the quickest meal. Remember to keep an eye on the onions so they brown evenly but don't burn! By the time the water is boiling, most of your veggies will be chopped and ready to blanch! Then, just drain, dress, and eat!

Peanut Sauce (Sambal kacang)
1 tsp finely minced raw onion (or use 2 large shallots if you have them)
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 inch "thumb" of ginger, finely minced (or to your taste - I like lots!)
6 Tbs crunchy peanut butter
1 Tbs oil
2 - 3 Tbs fresh lime juice or tamarind paste
1 Tbs brown sugar
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Sriracha sauce, or hot sauce of your choice
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 Tbs soy sauce or 1 Tbs soy sauce and 1 Tbs fish sauce
boiling water

Put all ingredients except hot water in the food processor or blender and whiz until well combined. With motor running, pour hot water in until it reaches the consistency of ranch dressing. Taste for sourness, sweetness and saltiness, adding more of lime juice/tamarind paste, sugar or soy sauce/fish sauce until it tastes good to you.

8 oz shredded cabbage
8 oz bean sprouts
4 large carrots, sliced into thin strips
4 celery stalks, sliced into thin strips

Toss all veggies except bean sprouts in the boiling water together and blanch for exactly 3 minutes. Drain immediately.

1 Tbs of vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced very thin
2 Tbs chopped peanuts (if not using crunchy peanut butter)
1/2 cucumber, sliced into thin strips
Sliced chili pepper (optional)

In a heavy fry pan, saute the onion in the oil until dark brown, with some crunchiness. This will take about 15 minutes. Be careful to not let it burn.

To Assemble:
You will need a VERY large bowl for this. Place bean sprouts at the bottom of the bowl, then the blanched veggies, then all the garnishes except the onion and chopped peanuts, top with peanut sauce,and carmelized onions and chopped peanuts. Toss well and eat.

Notes: The more carmelized onions, the better! And you can't have too much crunch, so try it with crunchy peanut butter AND the chopped peanuts. Pretty much any combo of veggies will do, but you must have bean sprouts, cabbage and cucumber. Blanched cauliflower or broccoli would be tasty, as would sliced raw red peppers.

The quickest way to make this, is to use up your leftover steamed veggies from last night's dinner. You could even make extra, just so you could make this dish!

Serves 4 - 6, or 6 -8 if you are also serving rice on the side

This would be yummy with a fresh mango for dessert. I like my mango just cut into spears or cubes, and sprinkled with Gold Medal's Soul Seasoning, which is a seasoned salt mixture that has a bit of a peppery kick to it, and is readily available here in the deep south.

Four Stars

Italian Bean Dip

This is a recipe that is one of my standbys - any kind of bean will do, though I particularly like chickpeas and black beans the best. You can use any herb blend as well, though I prefer Italian seasonings for this. Today I used black beans since I have six cans in my pantry, and I had a half can of tomatoes left over from the pizza on Friday night. Use the best extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil that you can, since the flavor of the olive oil is highlighted in this recipe.

Italian Bean Dip

1 can beans
1/2 of a 15-oz can diced tomatoes in juice
1 heaping tsp minced garlic
1 tsp dried Italian herb mix
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Sriracha (or hot sauce of your choice)
Extra virgin olive oil to taste

Place first six ingredients in food processor or blender and process till mixed well but still chunky. With motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until you get the texture you want.

Note: This will provide us a couple of days worth of toppings for bruschetta and dips for crudites or unsalted pretzels. If you plan on using dippers that are salted, you might want to cut the salt down or leave it out entirely, as it can seem too salty (at least to me) when the dippers are salted. Lunch today will be bruschetta topped with this bean dip and maybe coleslaw on the side.

Maple Oatmeal Bread

This is my favorite bread recipe - I think my New England roots are showing because its the maple flavor that I love so much. However, don't be fooled into thinking this is a sweet bread - its not a dessert by any means - it makes great sandwiches. This recipe originally came from the instruction booklet for my very first bread machine, about 16 or 17 years ago, a DAK which looked like R2D2 and made perfectly round loaves. I wore that machine out after a year making at least two loaves of bread a day. My Dad and my baby REALLY like homemade bread.

Maple Oatmeal Bread
1 pkg (or 2 1/2 tsp) yeast
1 1/4 C plus 1 Tbs warm water
1/3 C maple syrup
1 Tbs vegetable oil
3 C all purpose unbleached wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 C plain, dry oatmeal

Put ingredients into your bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer. Use white bread setting and light or medium crust, and let 'er rip!

Makes 1 1/2 lb loaf

Note: Use a good quality flour - I always use King Arthur flour when I can get it here in the deep south. The recipe originally called for quick cooking oats, but I've successfully made this bread with long cooking oats as well. Do use real maple syrup if you have it, because the full bodied flavor it imparts cannot be beat. In a pinch, use maple flavored syrup and it will still taste yummy, or even substitute honey for a totally different flavor.

Five stars PLUS!

Black Bean Dip

Yesterday I made some black bean dip. The recipe was adapted from one for red bean dip which I got from the vegetarian yahoo group. I couldn't resist tinkering with it, so it really doesn't have any resemblance to the original, though. I purposely made it very thick, like a paste, so that it could be used as a sandwich filling as well as a dip.

1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 med red onion, chopped
2 tbsps. fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1/2 tsp Sriracha sauce (or other hot sauce of your choice)
extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Place beans in colander and rinse well. Set aside to drain well. In food processor, coarsely chop half a red onion. Tear a handful of cilantro off a bunch and add it to the processor. Process until everything is finely chopped. Add the beans, garlic, chipotle and hot sauce. Run the processor until everything is minced. While still running, drizzle some olive oil in through the feed tube until you have the consistency that you want. (I kept mine very stiff and paste-like) Scrape the contents of the processor into a bowl. Taste for salt.

This was really yummy. E and I just loved it, especially as a quick snack, scooped out with pretzels!

Four stars