(non-breaking news): Cast Iron Skillets are Magic

I realize that this is not new information. My grandmother was loyal to her cast iron skillet and would talk about things like "seasoning the pan" and other cryptic phrases that scared me off. I had found many a recipe that recommended using a cast iron skillet, and as long as it wasn't one of the stovetop to oven ones, I ignored the advice thinking, "how different can it be, I have a skillet that works fine". Oh. It's different. I stumbled into using one when we went camping last year and I got one for campfire cooking. I brought a bag of the dry ingredients for The Compassionate Cook pancakes pre-mixed in a ziploc. I had the soy milk, water, oil and vanilla along and mixed it up there in the woods. Those were the best mother f-ing pancakes that I ever had. At the time, I thought it was because we were cooking and eating pancakes at a campsite in the middle of Yosemite valley, and I'm sure that was a bit part of it. However, when I got home, I made stovetop pancakes with the same recipe on that same skillet, and there, in the middle of my apartment in Los Angeles- were the 2nd most amazing pancakes that I ever had. Which proved beyond a doubt that it was the skillet's doing. I have used it since for stir fries, it's particularly amazing at browning tofu (for particularly wet tofu, I have baked it in the skillet and it is to die for). It comes in handy for most everything (though I read that tomato based dishes are a no-no in it). I seasoned it once, and it could use another round of that when it cools off enough to put the oven on (I followed the Martha god's instructions from her Cooking School book, but she has instructions here). To convince you of the magic of it, I challenge you to try this potato recipe. It's great with a tofu scramble or savory breakfast. I would even go as far as to serve it on the side of a comfort food dish like Salsbury Seitan. It is insanely good! Like eyes into the back of your head good. There are crispy pieces of potato that are as crunchy as chips, and then the softer centers that are so creamy and good that any condiment just gets in the way. Also, it's quite easy, you'll need: • 1 bag (use about 9*) of the small tri-color potatoes at Trader Joes. If you don't have one close by, most stores have something like this, it has the small variety of white, yellow and purple potatoes. • Salt and Pepper to taste • Butter or vegan margarine (one of the bi-products of going back to vegetarian vs vegan is that I started to use butter, I'm not proud, but it may be what makes these so amazing). • your magic cast iron skillet Wash potatoes well and slice about 9 of them width wise depending on size varying from paper thin to about 1/8" thick max. There's a magic combo of how many you can use without crowding the pan and making it too hard to get the right consistency and crunchy parts that you're after- too many potatoes in the pan and it won't get there. I mix the colors up after slicing because it's prettier that way Heat the skillet on medium heat, put a few pats of butter or margarine in the pan and then layer the slices all along the bottom. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the first layer and put 3-4 more pats of butter or margarine on top. Repeat for 2 more layers of potatoes. I haven't timed how long this takes, but it's awhile- at least 30 minutes. What you'll need to do it let those taters sizzle away in the pan and flip when you have some browning and crunchiness on them. They will start to clump, fall apart a bit, there will be some stuck together, free those up from time to time to get everyone some quality skillet time. you'll know they're done when they've shrunk down a bit and there are some curled up crunchy bits in there coupled with what looks like scalloped potatoes. Test for salt and pepper, season if necessary and serve immediately. These re-heat okay, but there's nothing like them when they're fresh out of the amazing wonderous cast iron skillet!

Mexicali Scramble

I have fallen into a bit of a brekkie rut. I have the most fantastic waffle maker on the planet, coupled with the best recipe for waffles (modified from Vegan Brunch- it's the Buckwheat one but since I didn't have buckwheat flour, I used 1/2 wheat, 1/2 unbleached, and it makes for waffle greatness). I have my fave tofu scramble recipe from http://www.powells.com/biblio/17-9781551521879-0, there's the crepes from Vegan Brunch, but that requires thought before hand to get a couple pints of berries or bananas (worth it when I remember), but also not a brunch to have weekly. Pancakes (which, actually, my faves are from The Compassionate Cook, but I seem to have never blogged about those). And if I am low on ingredients, lazy, or in a hurry to get someplace- it's just cereal. So, next week, I pledge to delve further into vegan brunch and do the benedict or the puff pastry tempeh thing, something jazzy. For this week, I needed to work with what was in the kitchen and created this iteration of a scramble. It was good, I would like to experiment and use the extra ultra firm and kind of dry tofu- as this was a bit moist but the flavors were spot on, and it was a great way to start the day! I recommend a cast iron skillet as I do for a lot of dishes these days, since it's a short cut to amazingness. 1 package extra firm tofu 1 can black beans, drained and well rinsed 1/2 onion, finely chopped 3 cloves garlic- smooshed through a press 1 med-large tomato, finely chopped 1T tamari 1t dijon mustard 1/8 t smoked paprika (secret ingredient, don't skip it, it adds a lot of smoky goodness) 1t nutritional yeast 1T sun dried tomato-infused oil salt and pepper to taste Sautee the onion in 1/2 the oil. Combine spices, garlic, tamari, mustard and nutritional yeast and whisk around with a fork until well combined. When the onions are soft approaching translucent, crumble the tofu into the pan. Add in the spice mix, I use tofu bits to get every last bit out (saves washing a spatula). Let that cook until the color is bright yellow-gold and the tofu is drying out. Add tomatoes and well rinsed black beans. Add the sun dried oil as needed to keep the dish from sticking too much. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook until dish is dry enough and some tofu is browning. Serve with toast or corn tortillas- I wouldn't kick some potatoes out of bed with it either.

I Am A Crepe Chef!

I had never tried Crepes from Vegan Brunch because there is a rather intimidating "letter to a young crepe maker" inside which very sweetly reassures Ms Chandra's readers that crepes are not to be feared but are manageably easy to make. I, however, took the need for her to write this "these are no big deal" calming letter in the cookbook as a surefire sign that these were hell on earth impossible to make. Turns out- they're either super easy- or I am a crepe chef genius that just discovered my purpose in life. They were perfect deliciousness and I will now subsist on nothing but crepes filled with anything at all because they are fantastic! One more reason Vegan Brunch rules- I can't wait for Isa Does It to come out!

Stone Fruit Compote

I found this recipe online while perusing for something to make a food swap that a co-worker and I organized at work. I was telling her about the LA Food Swap at Reform School that I had gone to, and she suggested that we do one at work. Months later (I've mentioned that we're pretty busy there)- we finally did! To digress a tad, it was super fun and a total success. We had 13 rsvps and ended up with 10 participants. I have a photo of the loot here, which was all fantastic. So, back to what I made here (and for the swap)- Stone Fruit Compote. The recipe is from the trusty Martha (here.) Say what you will about her, but her peoples do the legwork and test all the recipes well. I have only made a few of hers (mostly boozy drinks), but they were all amazing. For the compote, I made a few variations, and I think that the mixed one was best. I had made; pluot only, and a mix of pluot, nectarine and the "dinosaur egg" mystery fruit that they have at the farmer's market. Todays' was recreated with the previous pluot/ nectarine mix and the addition of plums added in. These photos are both the beautiful ingredients (texted to a friend who said it looked like potpourri), and the finished compote. This photo shows it over greek yogurt (sorry, I'm back to vegetarian vs vegan again), though you could serve it on pancakes, coconut ice cream, etc. It has a slight wintery feel with the cinnamon, allspice and anise flavors, but still utilizes all the tasty stone fruits in season right now. Also, as a side note, if you look closely, you'll see a Ginger Lemon Cordial in the center of the swap photo. That was also mine, and was a HUGE hit. Partially because I brought bourbon and made a cocktail with it, but it was also great in club soda as a light summer soda. That recipe is here. It also has the side benefit of making your house smell like you live inside a lemon when you make it (win/win!)

Banana Blueberry Muffins



These are "Wolfie's Banana Blueberry Muffins" from La Dolce Vegan. A book that has fallen out of fashion in the J-R household a bit since I discovered RFD and Candle 79 type books. But, La Dolce does have some great go-to rather quick recipes, and I had one lonely banana on it's way out of the world, so... I gave this a shot.

These are really very good. They have some odd ingredients in them- ground ginger and molasses- but that really compliments the banana, and even though this has one banana in it vs three in our other go-to nana muffin recipe (HERE), the banana flavor really pops. Which kind of leaves you wondering why there are blueberries involved. The berries are a kind of nice tart element, but walnuts or something would make way more sense in here. Still, it's good, so whatevs!

Apple Rosemary Scones and the L.A. Food Swap





I made these Apple Rosemary Scones for my first foray into the Food Swapping world. Last night's swap was hosted by Reform School, who I sell my work through (see HERE) , which is how I found out about it. Turns out that I'm a bit late to the party, as this was their one year anniversary. It's a fantastic idea and was truly a lot of fun.

For those who don't know, the swap is a gathering of peoples who bring food that they've made, grown or foraged. You bring as little or as much as you like. There were; jams, pickled goods, chocolates, cupcakes, granola, nut milks, simple syrups, limoncello, herbs, citrus fruits, etc. I made 3 dozen Rosemary Apple Scones (I'll review the recipe in a sec) and had 4 bags of cherry granola as well. I made two batches of my Hybrid Granola, which made a disappointing amount. But, it turns out that granola wasn't too big of a hit with that crowd, so it was for the best.

The first 1/2 hour of the event was set up time. Everyone set out their offerings and samples (samples are the key!). The second 1/2 hour was mingle and tasting time where you walked around and ate peoples food and bid on it if you wanted to trade your stuff for theirs. Then the swapping commenced. I was shocked at what a smooth operation it was, it all went down in an hour and a half. My scones were a hit (yay), and I scored some serious awesomeness (see photo); Fresh herbs, grapefruits, oranges, a kick ask hot paste, more jam than I'll eat in a year, some chocolates and more. I'm not a haggler, but luckily there wasn't a lot of that. I did feel like a heel turning down swaps of dairy food- but they're very kind and assure everyone at the start not to feel bad about that stuff. I also was refused some simple syrup (which was amazing!) b/c the maker didn't eat grains (which I can't fathom, but a lot of people can't fathom being vegan either, so...)

As for the scones- the recipe is fantastic! I used a bit less rosemary than it called for because I simply didn't have enough. I loved the flavor, though, so I would go forward using less in the future (a bit over 1/8 cup where the recipe calls for 1/4). I also used Earth Balance in lieu of shortening, because I realized that my shortening is hydrogenated and I didn't want to inflict that on my swapmates. These are by far my fave scones ever, though- despite how much I loved the others in the book!

If you're in L.A. and so inclined, the swap organizer's Facebook page is HERE. I know that the idea isn't unique to here, though- so if you're elsewhere, you may want to google around to see if there's one near you. I loved the experience and will totally do it again!

Banana Muffins



These are great! We had some overripe nanas, and I thought I'd explore a new recipe vs my go-to Banana Bread one. It's a good recipe, but I don't want to be caught in a banana shaped rut.

These were great- totally moist with a really great flavor. I would cut down on the baking time, though (depending on your oven)- I baked for the recommended time and they were a bit overdone on the bottom (you may be able to see the color difference between the bottom and the top on the photo). Even with that, though, they weren't dried out or anything- which is saying something (that they're good!)

You can get the recipe HERE

My hybrid granola!



So, I have been a bit like goldilocks with my homemade granola and tonight came close to "just right". My standby recipe was Neysa's, though I had long ago ditched the flax and sunflower seeds- I know that they have great nutritional benefits, but I really am not in to the taste of seeds in the granola. Particularly the flavor of flax. Whenever I've used it for an egg replacer (ground) in baking, if I can pick up the taste of the flax- it totally ruins it for me. I digress- this is supposed to be all about granola. This standby recipe was also a bit dry for me and didn't have the clumping that some store bought granola has (I like food in clump form).

I also tried the granola from Vegan Family Meals- she cracked the code of the clump, but mine came out far too sweet, I over cooked it and it tasted like candy, really. Which is great for a sweet snack, but not as much for brekkie.

Tonight I sat down with both recipes to suss out a happy medium. There were similarities, but also huge differences (4 c of flakes difference, and- the magic clumping ingredient- brown rice syrup is in the cookbook). So, I took my favorite parts of each and made my own hybrid or franken version that I think came out pretty good.

It has a huge crunch raw, and holds up without getting soggy in soymilk (while I took this photo). You could bake it for less time to cut back on the crunch. There's no real huge clumps, but I'm not sure that I mind too much, there's a few small ones about which makes me happy. Also, this is a really good sweet level for me. It's not very sweet, but still with the dried cranberries and blueberries, it's as sweet as I'd want to go. I may try reducing the maple syrup and agave next time for 1/8 c more rice syrup to try to get those elusive clusters, though.

Dry:
1 cup rye flakes
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2T Cinnamon
1/2 t salt

Wet:
1/4 c brown rice syrup
1/4 c maple syrup
1/4 c agave nectar
2 T melted coconut oil
2 T water
1T vanilla

Toppings:
Dried cranberries
Fresh Blueberries

Preheat oven to 275. mix all dry ingredients together. Melt coconut oil and wisk wet ingredients together in a second bowl. Combine wet into dry and mix until all dry ingredients are coated. Do not add toppings before baking. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, remove from the oven and stir up and rotate. Bake for another 10-20 minutes depending on crunch preference (more time = more crunch).

You can add about 1/2 c dried cran into the cooled granola. I just put in a handful of cran and a handful of fresh blueberries before eating it. If you try it, let me know what you think!

Hash!



Thanks to this here hash, from this day (actually Monday) forward- all Mondays in the J-R household shall be Savory Morning Monday! (catchy, yes?) I found that Tofurkey (swoon) has a vegan breakfast sausage, which is fantastic news to me because even though I've been known to fall off the wagon and eat cheese every blue moon, eggs are an absolute no for me- and the faux sausages that I had loved so much from Morningstar Farms have eggs as one of the main ingredients. And, call me cynical- but seeing as they're owned by Kraft, I can't see those coming from free range happy birds.

Anyway, tofurkey's sausage is good- a bit sweet, but it works great in this hash. I feel silly listing directions as it's basically pan fried potatoes with some jazz in it, but here you are anyway. I also made the La Dolce Vegan scrambler which is great mushed into this hash too. A bit of wheat toast on the side and you really don't need to eat until 'Left Over Savory Morning Tuesday'.

• 1 large baking potato, chopped into small cubes
• 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
• 1/2 red onion, diced
• 1 roma tomato, diced
• Tofurkey breakfast sausage
• salt and peppa to taste
• about 1T of oil (mine was too oily with more- I found I cannot cook this in my non non-stick pan without serious stickage)

Sautee the onions in oil for a few minutes, add the potatoes- covering the pan will make them cook faster. Cook until potatoes are firm-soft. Add breakfast sausage, green pepper, tomato and salt and pepper (about 1/2 t each). Cook until peppers are firm-soft and tomatoes are close to falling apart.

Also, if I were to get all Nancy on this (I've been known to individually flip these little potatoes to get all sides evenly cooked), I'd cook the 'sausage' separately to get a little bit of a crust on it before adding it to the potatoes, but with making the scramber as well, I just threw it in. Yup, I can be crazy too.

Cranberry Orange Nut Muffins



These are some tasty muffins from Isa Chandra Moskowitzs' Vegan Brunch book. Her Bakery Style muffins from this book have become my go-to recipe (which I've oddly enough never photo'd for the blog). These are equally amazing in a way that feels a mite more healthy (there are cranberries, orange juice and walnuts involved- it's practically a meal in a muffin).

They have a great balance of flavors, any one of them seems dominant when you focus on it, which I think means that they're all doing a good job. The crans are crazy tart. The muffins have an all over orange-y taste. There's almond extract, which is very prominent (that stuff is STRONG!), but in these, it's ok (generally I halve any almond extract called for in recipes b/c it is so overpowering). In this case, it adds a fullness that the muffins need b/c between the crans and oranges could get a bit too citrus/ tarty. Same with the nuts, they are an absolute must or- again- the muffin would be too high pitched. The nuts add a low end (forgive the music analogies- I am married to a music fella). All in all- they're really good.

The tops are nice- they have a light crunch to them b/c (the author says) of the juice in the recipe. I would still prefer blueberry over anything, but this is good to mix it up. It is also great as a fall muffin and would even be good during the holidays when you have family spending over to have these in the morning. They're super easy too, which is a plus, particularly at this time of year when you have enough to do :)

Waffle Maker!





Oh, man! Glorious day! My uber husband bought me this uber double waffle iron for my bday (along with other lovely gifts, and yes, as you could guess by the fact that I have a blog about food- I seriously love getting kitchen stuff for gifts!). I wanted some cheapy one waffle at a time, get the job done iron. But this... oh, the luxury! You can cook two at once (no more stabbing at your family's hands with your fork when they try to steal your waffle), and- as if it needed another reason to be awesome- the pockets are a flipping inch deep! Entire blueberries fit in the pockets! It's magic and cooks to perfection and will make every Sunday morning amazing in my house from this day forward.

The recipe used is the same one that I used for the waffle pan- the Buckwheat Waffles from Vegan Brunch. I did alter it (minused the Buckwheat since I had none)- which I'm sure defeats the intent of the recipe, but for the record- 3/4 white flour with 1/4 wheat (of what the recipe calls for- not cups) is perfect. If you'll excuse me, it's 10pm on a Thursday and I'm gonna need to go make some waffles now.

Neysa's Granola



This granola recipe is courtesy of my former boss Neysa! I don't remember how this came about, I know that she had made it and became addicted to eating it with homemade yogurt and I think that the smell of deliciousness wafted from her office to mine and then I stole her purse and said sent her an anonymous ransom note (I loooove cutting individual letters out of magazines!) and then she turned in the ransom (the recipe) and I put her purse in one of those barrels around a St. Bernards neck and sent him to her office to return it. Then I went home, made it and basked in the tastiness.

It also makes a great gift for people who have everything (since they'll consume it).

here's her recipe and my modifications in parenthesis:

3 cups large flake oats (bulk section of whole foods or a natural foods store)
1 1/2 cups barley or rye flakes
1/2 cup oat bran (bulk or sometimes boxed by cereal isle)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 t salt
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, cashews, pecans or almonds- I loooove it with sliced almonds)
1/2 c pumpkin seeds (I don't add this much, but it is good)
1/2 c flax seeds (I'm iffy on these, I know that they're great for you, but I'm not huge on the taste- I still use some though)
1/2 c veg oil
1/4 c water
2/3 c honey, maple syrup (or agave)
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 c dried berries (cherries, cran, raisins, etc)
(2 T cinnamon)

In a large bowl, combine all dried ingredients except berries. In smaller bowl, whisk, oil, water, liquid sweetener and vanilla. Combine wet and dry together. I add 1 T of cinnamon into the batter and then sprinkle more on top (I likes me some cinnamon).

Spread mixture onto two baking sheets and bake at 250 degrees for 10 minutes, stir and cook for another 10 minutes. If you like it crunchy, bake another 10 (I end up baking for an hour and stirring every 15 minutes or so- I either like it really crunchy or Neysa has a warp speed oven!)

Cool and stir in berries. Sealed it keeps for up to a month.

Thanks again, Neysa!

Battle of the Tofu Scramblers




Anyone who's been vegetarian or vegan for more than five minutes has probably had tofu scrambler. I had so much of it years ago that I pretty much never eat it anymore. But on the rare occasions that I want it, I want to make it. I have had too many nastily prepared versions at restaurants to ever order it out again unless for some reason, I'd know that the restaurant makes it amazing.

This is getting on a tangent, but the thing about ordering tofu in restaurants is that most places (non-veg restaurants) do not prepare it well. You need to use the right tofu for the right job (Silken for sauces and deserts, water packed for stir fries and scrambles). I went to a big, chain Mongolian barbecue style place with a client and ordered a stir fry with tofu- they served silken in a stir fry that was undercooked and unmarinated! No wonder tofu has a bad rep with most of the meat-eatin' crowd!

So, yeah, water packed is the way to go for this dish, firm or extra firm. These recipes are from Vegan Brunch and Dolce Vegan. Dolce Vegan is the one in the tortilla and was the clear winner. I would halve the mustard that it calls for, but other than that, it's a great, basic recipe that you can doctor up with peppers or whatever you like. It's just yellow and neutral with enough flavor to make it interesting. I also threw in some vegan chorizo to justify the tortilla b/c we were out of bread (toast).

The Vegan Brunch recipe was not my thing. I suspect that the author is also bored with this dish and just wanted to jazz it up, but 2 teaspoons of cumin was overkill, and not the flavor that I'm looking for with scrambler. Plus, it calls for quite a lot of nutritional yeast, which I think is great in small doses but too much of it damns a dish for me.

So that's my tofu scramble report until next year when I make it again and try a new recipe.

New Waffle Pan







Yup, I said "pan", not "iron". I had wanted a waffle iron since we haven't had one for years. However, in our dinky, tiny galley kitchen, storage space is pretty much nil. The only thing we have less of than storage space is counter space. So, the idea of another appliance to store or find room for was too much for Davey to handle. He solved this by getting me a waffle pan from Sur La Table (HERE). I was skeptical because of the one sided nature of this waffle preparation method. After all, the whole schtick of a waffle is that it's being formed and cooked on both sides at once. But, this this is pretty amazing.

Since the recipe on the pan wasn't vegan (natch), I used the "Buckwheat Waffle" recipe on pg 93 of "Vegan Brunch"- only b/c I hadn't shopped to prepare for the xmas gift pan, I had no buckwheat flour. So they were "Plain Flour Waffles", I guess. Sill, it worked pretty great after getting the hang of it and flipping at the right time. I photo'd the uber waffle side, as the other side really just gets a square pattern on it, but whatevs. They're good, we get waffles and we can hang the pan from our ceiling pot rack instead of having to find room on the counter or in the cabinet for it.

Also- the best part is that Davey figured out that if you put a Morningstar Farms brekkie sausage in the middle- you have a sweet and savory (if a tad unnutritious) brekkie sammie!

Dooooouuuuugggghhhhnnnnuuuuutttttssss!






So, these aren't the fried, greasy, artery clogging (delicious) doughnuts that we all know and love from grammas house, but these are delicious in their own right. For one, they have a bit more of a cake-y texture. They're sweet, but not overpoweringly so- excellent with coffee, and you can eat 3 or 4 and be all like, "wha? they're not fried or anything". I got the recipe from Vegan Yum Yum who went further than I have and made a chocolate glaze for the top as well.

The pan is from Sur La Table and is here. It's well worth the monies, even though it's such a specialty pan and I have a redonkulously tiny kitchen. I also gave some away as hostess gifts to family that I stayed with who have kids, and they were a hit. Who doesn't love doughnuts? Even knock-off healthy ones!

Scones (best scones we've ever tried!)



These are from Vegan Brunch p.180 and are hands down the best scones that I've ever tried (including pre-vegan ones). They're a lot more moist than your average scone. Also, I tried a tip that I read in one of these books about muffins. I made these for our Disneyland trip that we'd be taking the next day. There was to be a car load of peoples, and I wasn't sure what variety of scone to make (we had blueberries, chocolate chips and cinnamon sugar in the house). So- I made all 3. Nothing was folded into the batter, I just divided the batter into 3 and then had 3 varieties of scones to bake. Our favorites in order were; blueberry, cinnamon, and choc chip (I really only made those b/c I heard that other peoples like them).

Excellent recipe. If you get Vegan Brunch, I highly recommend you start here!