Monday, March 29, 2010

curried seitan + cauliflower

When I was a kid, one of my favorite treats was miàn jīn, Chinese fried gluten. It is impossible to describe in a way that makes it sound appealing. Balls of wheat gluten that had been deep fried, and canned in some sort of mysterious and delicious oil. In terms of appearances, it was not a pretty thing. It also kept its shape fairly well, so when you peeled pieces out of the can with your chopsticks, they always retained its vaguely cylindrical, brainlike consistency, and is advertised as "mock meat". You're drooling right now, aren't you.

So, like with most things, once I moved away to college and away from the sometimes astonishingly ... antique contents of our pantry at home, I forgot about most of these things.

Until, a couple of years ago, Hillside Quickie happened. So the name of the restaurant is a bit of a misnomer, given that it is neither situated on a hillside, nor is the service quick, by any stretch of the imagination. What it does boast, however, is VEGAN SOUL FOOD.

Now, I've already gone over my various and complicated feelings about "-an" classifications of eating, so you can take my word for it when I say that this isn't just good food by vegan standards (if you are one of those skeptics that believes that meat + butter related substances are key for anything delicious). This food is good, period. If you are ever in the Seattle area, it is definitely worth a stop. This place affirms the hypothesis that everything can be made delicious through the process of deep frying.

Hillside Quickies can be wholly attributed to my discovery of seitan - namely, that it existed outside of the nebulous walls of my mother's pantry, and that other people eat it.

Since I've started cooking in earnest this year, my roommate has pioneered many successful attempts at making seitan through baking. As I was doing research for our weekly group vegan dinners, I finally thought that I would try my hand at it. And let me tell you, there is a lot of shit to sort through about seitan.

I encountered a few recipes that uttered dire warnings about boiling the seitan, others still who swore by it, tons of recipes that differed between cooking time, cooking method, amount of oil, type of oil, marination. You get the idea.

So, deciding that it was time to just pony up and start experimenting, I glommed together various recipes from around the internets and came up with this.

Curried Seitan + Cauliflower

  • 6-8 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 2/3 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 3 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 1 stalk green onions, chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped
  • 2 cups rice milk
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder


1. Pour the broth into a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer.

2. Combine the vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, curry, and salt into a medium size bowl.

3. Combine the soy sauce, sherry, and water into another bowl.

4. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a spoon. Knead into dough a few times until all of the ingredients are incorporated. The water will react almost instantly with the vital wheat gluten to make a tough dough.

5. Tear pieces of dough off the larger dough ball with your hands and drop gently into the simmering broth. The pieces should be about an inch in diameter. Allow to cook for about 20 minutes, or until the seitan has expanded and risen to the top of the pot. Remove from heat and place in a shallow dish.

6. Mix half a cup of rice milk with the flour in a medium saucepan. Stir over low heat until the mixture has thickened.

7. Add the remaining rice milk and other sauce ingredients, and cook at medium heat for approximately 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.

8. Pour the mixture over the seitan pieces and refridgerate overnight.

9. The next day, allow the seitan to sit at room temperature for about ten minutes before cooking.

10. Heat 2 tsp of oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Spoon the seitan pieces into the pan, reserving the sauce, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the seitan is slightly browned and firm.

11. Pour marinade sauce over the seitan, add the cauliflower, and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.

12. Salt and pepper to taste, garnish with green onions, and serve over rice.

I was a little nervous about making this, in the way that I am nervous about attempting to make cheese. When food texture is so important, it generally is common sense to assume that it would be really easy to screw up. And though I cooked my seitan a tiny bit longer than I should have (I modified the above recipe accordingly), the seitan just was a little bit tougher than was my preference, but could very well be exactly up someone else's alley. But the point is, the whole thing did not explode into a seitany, satan-y ball of doom, and was quite forgiving of all of the humiliations that I put it through. Do be prepared for the alarming rate of dough expansion among cooking, and learn from my mistakes and test the seitan frequently to make sure that it is at the consistency and texture that you like.

Though I will admit: I am still a little bit freaked out by the insta-magic of wheat gluten. The final product was a very convincing meat-like texture, with good flavor. In the future, I'm going to try slicing and frying cutlets (instead of boiling pieces), so we'll see how that works out. Also, I am well aware that this is the second curried cauliflower recipe that I have posted. I'm working on diversifying, I promise.

It was quite an easy make-ahead sort of recipe, and the vegetables could certainly be flexible, depending on what is in season. Seitan keeps remarkably well in the freezer as well, so you could always portion the seitan in freezer bags, instead of just marinating overnight.

And while it is not quite as cheap an option as tofu or beans, it is quite a treat, and - it turns out - easy to make.

Also, if anyone has any killer seitan recipes, then do let me know! Sorry for not having pictures of the final product (the first picture was the seitan, post-marinade) - but it always gets eaten up so fast...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vegan Mexican Chocolate Cake

It's been a big week. A big week involving acceptance letters in the mail! And finally, finally, the previously distant future melding with my immediate present.

So, with the prospect of moving to New York on the brain, I decided that celebration was in order. Specifically, celebration in the form of cake.

Vegan Mexican Chocolate Cake
[copied verbatim from Foods For Long Life]


  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cut a piece of foil to fit the bottom of an 8 inch pie plate, and place in the bottom of the pan. Grease the sides of the pan with olive oil.
  3. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Stir in the water, vanilla, vinegar and oil until combined.
  5. Pour mixture into the cake pan, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Cool in the pan, then turn the cake pan over and gently peel off the foil from the bottom of the cake.
  7. Turn the cake back over so it is cooling on the rack with the top facing up and cool another 15 minutes.
  8. Dust cake with powdered sugar.

Monday, March 1, 2010

clam pesto pizza

To say that I'm a fan of seafood would be a major understatement. By and large, I'm fairly successful in eating very little red and white meat, but seafood is one thing that I know that I could never give up completely.

I could rattle off a Forrest Gump-esque list that soliloquizes all the ways and manners in which I love all kinds of seafood - not just shrimp - but for everyone sanity (and limited attention span), I won't. I'll just say that we have crabs for Thanksgiving in lieu of a turkey, and leave it at that.


Within the last couple of years, I've been lucky eough to have a monetary and gastronomic lifesaver nearby: Trader Joe's.

Specifically, two ingredients: the pizza dough, and the basil.

Let's break this down for a minute.

The pizza dough, which comes infused with all of the herby/yeasty/premade (and therefore lazines enabling) goodness: is less than $2.

The basil: comes in one boatsized denomination, which is not so great when you picked it up to make basil mozzarella sandwiches, but is the perfect amount for making pesto. In fact, I am fairly sure that it is humanly impossible to actually go through an entire box of the stuff without resorting to the "quick!-make-pesto-before-it-all-goes-bad!" strategy. All told, it's not too expensive to make amazing simple pizzas for dirt-cheap, and deluxe slightly-more-complicated pizzas for not too much more.

This pizza falls into the second category. I actually made this a few weeks ago (obligatory referral to the bleating excuses that I have made in previous posts affirming that yes, I AM still cooking, but yes, I also similtaneously am too lazy to blog most of the things I make). I wasn't even going to post the recipe. But the next day, when I brought in my leftovers, I was met with a universal reaction of disgust.

CLAM pizza? I might as well have brought in roadkill sandwiched between two pieces of Wonderbread. I found myself constantly having to defend my (apparently) odd recipe choice. I didn't think it was that strange.


I'd had clam pizzas at lots of places, usually with some incarnation of white sauce. Granted, I knew that this was not exactly something that you could pick up at Little Caesar's, but I certainly didn't think the combination strange enough to warrant an involuntary gagging sound. It's just like the clam sauce that you would have over pasta, people! The same basic meat+sauce+carb combo is still intact, I promise! It's just a slightly different variant! Now would you please put away your torches and pitchforks?

Given the reaction, I figured I really had no other choice but to blog it, with the hope of alleviating prejudice for the poor overlooked clam pizzas of tomorrow.

Obviously, if you are not a clam fan to begin with, this recipe is not for you. But on the off chance that you are fond of an occasional plate of Spaghetti alle Vongole at your local Italian restaurant, I beg you to consider this:

Pesto Clam Pizza
(pesto recipe adapted from the amazing 101 recipes)

  • 1 package of Trader Joe's refrigerated pizza dough (I like the herbed version, but the whole wheat is also quite good)
  • 1 large bunch of basil leaves
  • 1 head of garlic, separated into peeled cloves (from the above picture, you can tell I used two, but you all know my feelings on garlic at this point)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • A few tablespoons water
  • 1 6.5-oz can of chopped clams
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry
  • dash of white flour
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese (optional)


1. Take pizza dough out of the fridge and let rest on the counter. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Mince a third of the garlic. Add 1/3 of the basil leaves and chop them into the minced garlic. Add the next third of garlic along with 1/3 of the parm cheese. Mince until integrated. Alternate chopping the remaining basil, cheese, and garlic into the mixture until the final overall consistency is a fine mince.

3. Drizzle in the lemon juice and olive oil, and stir. Add a few tablespoons of water as needed, in order to achieve a thick pizza-sauce consistency.

4. Open the can of clams and drain the clam juice into a medium-sized saucepan. Add the dry sherry and stir over low heat for 1-2 minutes. Stir in a dash of white flour to help the sauce thicken.

5. Turn the heat to medium-high, stirring occasionally, until the clam-wine sauce has thickened. Add in the reserved clams and stir until heated through. Remove from heat, salt and pepper to taste if needed.

6. Use olive oil to grease a baking sheet (or use a pizza stone if you are lucky enough to have one) and hand-stretch the pizza dough to an approximate 12" diameter. Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes.

7. Spread the pesto mixture in a thin layer over the semi-baked crust, then spread the clam sauce mixture over that. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the top, if desired.

8. Put back in oven and bake according to the package until the crust has browed.

Convinced yet?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Shrimp and Cabbage Spring Rolls


It pains me to realize that this blog is in critical danger of meeting the fate that most New Years(ish) resolutions face - extinction. There are lots of reasons for that which I could get into here, but the fact of the matter is, it's always life that tends to get in the way, isn't it?

The time for cooking (or the time to set aside the time to devote to the completeness of the ritual) has been in short supply as of late. There is little space left over between interviews and applications, airports and bus shelters, reading and making endless barrages of words with varying importance.

So in the meantime, there have been meals made of pretzels and mustard, hastily eaten sandwiches in rish hour traffic, days that I subsist on coffee until 5 PM. And, god help me, during one particular day of weakness - a microwave dinner.

I know, I know. There's room for improvement, clearly. I have quite a backlog of photos on my camera from past meals that I just haven't had the time to document. And, quite frankly, most of the recipes that I've attempted in the past few weeks have been subpar, at best.

When we moved from Michigan to the Pacific Northwest in 2005, my grandparents moved with us. Early on, my mother instated the ritual of taking my grandparents shopping for groceries in Chinatown every other Saturday. While I could never drag my sleep-deprived carcass out of bed early enough to ever come along (I use the term "early" in a way that could only be applicable to high school and college students), I could always count on finding a few extra Tupperware containers in the fridge nestled amongst the newly purchased bags of oranges and apples. Sometimes they would be
jia li jiao (curried meat turnovers), or tsung you bing (green onion pancakes). Although all of these foods were definitely welcome visitors to my stomach, chun juan (fried spring rolls) were the key to my heart - and my grandmother's tour de force. Somehow, she had mastered the perfect alchemy of cabbage, carrots and dried shrimp, bound together with just the right combination of sauce, salt, and sweetness.

Now that my grandmother has passed away and my grandfather is back in Taiwan, I'm pretty much on my own when it comes to fulfilling my craving for Chinese treats. When I was struck by a longing for spring rolls the other day, I was initially stymied by not having a recipe. After a little experimentation, the ultimate lesson became clear: never underestimate the power of nostalgic tastebuds.

Shrimp and Cabbage Spring Rolls

  • 1 head of green cabbage, sliced thinly
  • 2 large carrots, shredded
  • 2 stalks green onions, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups dried shrimp (xia mi) - can also be substituted with 1 lb cooked and chopped coldwater shrimp
  • 1/2 cups dried shitake mushrooms (or three large portobella mushrooms, sliced and cooked)
  • 2 heads garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp black bean paste (salty, not sweet)
  • 1 tbsp rice wine (or a dry sherry)
  • 1 1/2 tsp white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 package dried spring roll wraps


  1. If using dried mushrooms and shrimp, you will need to presoak them before for a few hours until they are soft enough to chop. You might also get away with soaking them for less time in hot water.
  2. Mix soy sauce, black bean paste, wine, and sugar into a small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Saute garlic and sesame oil over low-medium heat until garlic is browned. Add mushrooms and shrimp and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  4. Add cabbage and carrots, turn to medium heat and stir fry until almost tender. (5-7 minutes)
  5. Add green onions, and sauce. Saute for an additional 2 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender.
  1. Prepare a large pan of hot water.
  2. Reconstitute a spring roll wrap in the water for 30 seconds, or until soft. Do not oversoak (or use water that is too hot), or the wrap will dissolve and tear.
  3. Drop in 1/8 cup of filling towards the bottom third of the wrapper.
  4. Fold in the sides, and then roll upwards to form a wrap.
  5. Eat fresh, or fry in a pan with a little bit of canola oil. Makes about a dozen spring rolls.

This was the perfect recipe for a big dinner with people that have a variety of food preferences, since the ingredients can be prepared separately.

Spring roll wraps in themselves are vegan, so the recipe would be a good substitute for egg rolls (minus the shrimp, obviously). Obviously there is also quite a bit of latitude with the vegetables for the filling - I used the more traditional cabbage and carrots, but there is certainly a lot of room for experimentation. Portobellas can be used in conjunction with the shitakes for fungophiles. For people who like seafood, you can substitute oyster sauce for the black bean sauce.

I ended up preparing all the ingredients separately (though you will need to probably make multiple batches of the sauce), throwing few pans of hot water and stacks of wrappers onto the table, and let everyone assemble their own wrapsm which probably wouldn't be kosher from a public health inspection viewpoint. But hey, let's not split hairs because let's face it, they're pretty damn delicious, germs or no.

Monday, February 1, 2010

spinach and mushroom bread pudding

All right, I'll admit it.

I'm bad with bread.

Most of the time, I try to avoid bread, knowing this. If I had my way, I would pick up a freshly baked loaf every day. I get depressed at the notion of bread that is doomed to the fate of resealable plastic ties. In general, my rule is, if the bag it comes in seals, then it isn't worth eating.

Naturally, this poses a problem for the feasibility of my bread consumption. It does not keep well. And, while the tortilla challenge of last week was entertainingly delicious (in which I successfully burrito-ed, cheese quesadilla-ed, and enchilada-ed myself to glory, FINALLY managing for the first time in my adult life to finish an entire bag of tortillas before the last few dried out), there's only so much love that I can give to sandwiches.

I know, I know. 'But sandwiches are delicious! And versatile!' you're saying. And yes, these this is true. Soon I will buckle down and try to come up with a good grocery list for a week-long sandwich challenge. Unfortunately, the sandwich's structure is not, shall we say, renowned for its longevity or constitution. So, since every given day usually involves running around for several hours in and between unrefrigerated places, the glory of the intricately stacked sandwich tends to make a remarkably swift transition to Sogville.

Despite all of these things, sometimes I can't resist. I walk past the bread in the bakery, and I'm doomed. In this particular instance, creamy roasted pepper soup was to blame. I had soup on the brain, knowing that the clock was ticking on the opened carton after making these babies.

So, despite my better judgment, I got a french baguette. I sawed off a fourth of it, and had a blissful soup experience.

And then I promptly forgot about the rest of it.

Cleaning my kitchen this afternoon, I stumbled upon it. Or rather, I practically cracked my knuckles against it in passing, since at that point, it was creeping its way towards the consistency of petrified wood.

After uttering a colorful menagerie of salty language, I was about to toss it into the bin when I dawned on me: bread pudding.

Spinach and Mushroom Bread Pudding

7-8 oz. firm tofu (I used half of a 15.5 oz twin pack)
2 tablespoons mustard (if you can, try to grab Trader Joe's Garlic Aioli Mustard - heaven!)
1 tsp peppercorns, crushed
1 cup almond milk
4 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1 head garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp rosemary
3-4 cups stale bread, cubed (i guesstimated with 3/4 of a stale baguette)
2 cups spinach leaves
9 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese


Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Saute mushrooms over medium heat until tender. Set aside.

Mash tofu, almond milk, shallots, garlic, and mustard together until well incorporated.

Add peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, and salt to taste.

Stir in spinach and mushrooms.

Add bread cubes and basil. Toss until well incorporated. Prod one of the cubes to make sure that it seems to be softening - if not, then add a bit more almond milk.

Spread into 9x13 baking pan and place mozzarella slices on top.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 min, or until the cheese is brown and bubbling

(p.s: i realize i've been bad about logging groceries. i've stopped doing huge weekly grocery runs because i was tired of having my mushrooms be shriveled or my basil wilted by the time i got round to the recipes i wanted to make. so instead, i've been just running to the store(s) before cooking, since we're lucky to be so close. today i grabbed mushrooms (half of a package at $1.69), garlic aioli mustard ($2.49), almond milk ($1.69).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cauliflower Pepper Curry


hello beautiful friends!

so sorry for being quite MIA in the past week. a fatal combination of house guests, laziness, and a renewed inspiration to make work had culminated in a bit of stagnation, cooking-wise.

but as a peace offering, i have the recipe from the cauliflower pepper curry that i made for the second time in a week. so take that as an endorsement; this stuff is good.

this recipe is a great illustration of one of my favorite food policies: "more pepper". (the others being, 'more mustard', and 'more garlic'.)

Cauliflower Pepper Curry

  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 can of coconut milk (14 oz)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon curry leaves
  • 1 bunch spinach, chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped
  • 2 vine-ripened tomatoes, cubed

  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and cover, until the seeds have stopped popping. Add cumin seeds and cook until browned (1 min).
  2. Stir-fry cauliflower until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for an additional one minute.
  3. Pour in coconut milk and scrape bottom of pan to release spice. Stir in salt, peppercorns, and curry leaves. Reduce and simmer for about 5-8 minutes, until cauliflower is tender.
  4. Add spinach, continue to simmer until cooked (about 5 minutes).
  5. Stir in tomatoes. Raise heat to medium-high, and boil uncovered for 3-5 minutes until tomato is warmed, and some of the cauliflower has broken down to thicken the sauce.
  6. Serve over basmati rice, if desired.

Bon appetit! Was a great, simple meal that could be left unattended for stretches of time. Perfect for listening to the State of the Union address and chipping away steadily at a cable-knit scarf that I have been working on since December.

There are a lot of things that I could say about my feelings (or lack thereof) on politics, and political leaders, and rhetoric, and public relations. Clearly, there are many things about our nation's shared situation that are less than ideal, and things about my own situation that are the same. In some ways, the last year has caused me to become a skeptic. Skeptical about things working out, about the seemingly inexorable slide of our country towards desperation, about things falling apart more than they come together.

As I made dinner tonight, I was a bit surprised to find that despite these precious feelings, I now have more gratitude than ever before. I no longer feel helpless. I no longer feel as if the things that happen to me are solely a result of unpredictable, inscrutable factors.

I could focus on the negative. I could grouse about tuition costs, about squeezing in hours at work at any given opportunity, about always rushing endlessly from place to place with burning calves and lungs. About millions of things, really. But the truth is, I don't. I'm recklessly, stupidly grateful to have a job, to have the opportunity to work and be paid in exchange, to have faith in my ability to do things well, in good friends and in a warm cat on my lap. I'm grateful for having the will and health to put in the effort to make food for myself, to experience the satisfaction in preparing it for subsequent consumption. In exercising a conscientiousness and a certain joy in converting raw ingredients into something worth having.

There are a lot of cliches that exist about the therapeutic effect of making food, about cooking to save yourself. I think I can buy into that to some degree, but it goes deeper than that. It's not just cooking that's saving myself. It's me. I'm saving myself. And small things, small things are saving me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

groceries, week 3

oof, it's been awhile. life has been busy! these are the groceries from two sundays ago - didn't do a formal grocery shopping trip last sunday since i was in a frenzy at the prospect for cooking for 7.

as it turns out, i'm impossible at holding onto receipts for longer than a week, but i do remember that the bill for everything above came out to about $33. most of the last week was just making burritos and enchiladas in various forms, since i challenged myself to finish an entire package before they slowly withered into submission in my fridge crisper drawer. you know what i'm talking about.

but the short list (sans individual prices). bought more items from trader joe's than normal, so it stretched my dollar a bit more than usual.
  • whole wheat flour
  • tortillas
  • red cabbage
  • yellow popcorn
  • green onions
  • italian parsley
  • avocado
  • portabella mushrooms
  • crimini mushrooms
  • yellow sweet onions
  • mexican blend cheese
  • coconut milk
  • artichoke hearts
  • soy sauce
  • tomato and roasted pepper soup
  • cauliflower
  • basil
the last week and a half have yielded a lot of mediocre food and initial lukewarm results from new recipes. you can't win 'em all, eh? lots of deadlines and readings and makings have also led to a lot of dinners consisting of random vegetables and popcorn. having company for the weekend also threw off the clear delineation between weekly budgeting, but business should be resuming to normal soon!

there was a single notable success with a pepper curry recipe, which i will have to post later (and cross my fingers that i remembered to take pictures of it. all of these meals lately have been blending together!)