Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Osaka Salad Dressing

I had Michelle over for lunch the other day.  I made my favorite lentil soup and an Osaka spinach salad with toasted almonds.  It is extra fun to cook for Michelle and Matt.  I find myself putting more thought into what I make.  They're both such good cooks and so when they compliment me it makes me especially pleased.  We dined alfresco since it was such a lovely Spring day.
The Osaka dressing on the salad is creamy and savory--packed with flavor.  I just love it.  It is a slightly modified version of our longstanding favorite stir-fry sauce.  Just a couple simple tweaks and it was perfect for a salad, too.
Osaka Salad Dressing
1/8 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 Tablespoons ginger root, peeled and grated*
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ketchup
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 C sesame seed (toasted or not)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup white vinegar
pinch of white pepper
tiny splash of sesame oil (optional)

Using a blender combine all the ingredients until smooth and creamy.  It will separate in the fridge so shake before using.  Make about two cups.

*If you have a Vitamix or other high-powered blender don't bother peeling and grating the fresh ginger.  Toss in a hefty knob and let the machine do the work.
I still can't quite believe how much I enjoy salads.  It makes me all the more excited for summer when there will be fresh lettuce in the garden and we can avoid cooking on a long, hot day.  Not that I need much in the way of additional enticement for my summer excitement, of course.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Memories from Mexico

As I mentioned last week, I recently got to go on a trip of a lifetime--three generations of women soaking it up under the Mexican sun.  As I have both a sentimental heart and a burning spirit for travel this trip was an overwhelmingly perfect combination.
Day One:  Poolside in the evening light.
Spending a solid week with my mom and my grandma was really cool.  I see them both, sure, but we do live hours apart and we don't get to spend daaaaaaays with each other--eating every meal together, telling stories, and winding down each evening with several games of cards.  So, that was really wonderful for me.  (And for them, too, I gather.)
Day 2:  Cuppa on the balcony
Mexico was absolutely spectacular, too.  Even more so than I expected.  I loved the people, the language, the landscape, the weather....  The mountains were a completely unexpected delight!  I enjoyed the drive from the airport with them as the backdrop to the rugged, scrubby desert foreground.  I got to see more of my beloved saguaros.  I even saw some in bloom with surprisingly delicate little white flowers.   I so love the desert.  Then, just like that, we were on the coast and everything was lush greenery, vibrant flowers, white sand, and water, water, water.  It was a remarkable contrast.  Equally remarkable was the difference between the posh, resort-lined coast and the rubbish and clothes line strewn communities of tiny, plywood homes just inland.
Day 3: Incredible guac and good times on the beach.
Our accommodations overlooked the marina and I enjoyed starting every day out on the balcony with the birds.  I would see two new-to-me species on this trip--Majestic Frigatebird and Hooded Oriole--as well as several rarely-seen-by-me birds, including the schnazzy cousin to the flicker the Gila Woodpecker, the striking Cactus Wren (who, it turns out, likes palm trees), and the sleek and captivating Great Egret.  I saw so many California Sea Lions.  They were playful and sleek and wonderful.
Day 4:  Cool fish, including the colorful Cortez Rainbow Wrasse.
I went swimming--in the ocean or the pool--at least once every day.  We took two boat cruises, one at sunset.  We walked for miles and miles along the boardwalks and through shops selling brilliantly colored blankets, ceramics, jewelry, and other made-in-Mexico crafts.
Day 5:  El Arco, the very tip of the Baja penninsula, at sunset on the dinner cruise.
Snorkeling was mind-blowing.  I was truly dazzled.  Just floored.  Having only snorkeled around a small, muddy reservoir in eastern Montana prior to this I had no idea what reef fish were like, I guess, and I was not prepared for their numbers.  At times there was a veritable carpet of fish under me.    I went four days out of the seven--one professional tour out in the big rocks and the rest along our "local" beach.  I promptly sunburned the back of my legs rather dreadfully on my first go.  I've only really scratched the surface on trying to ID these beauties, but I have a short list already:  King Angelfish, Reef Cornetfish, Guineafowl Puffer, Moorish Idol, Bullseye Puffer, Panamic Sergeant Major, Blue-and-Gold Snapper, Cortez Rainbow Wrasse, Cortez Damselfish, Graybar Grunt.  I really, really, really wished Matt was along for the snorkeling.  He'd love it and it would have been swell to share in that exciting nature experience together.  We'll have to make it happen some day....after we get him a prescription snorkeling mask so he can actually see the fish.
Day 6:  Two California Sea Lions and a Brown Pelican in the marina
Gosh, the salty ocean water tastes terrible!  It always surprises me, being an almost exclusively freshwater swimmer for my whole life and all.  I had an up-close-and-personal revelation about our precious and limited sources of fresh water as a result.  It is just boggling that most of the water in the world is salty like that....
Day 7:  Breakfast with a view.
It was a unique blessing to me, this trip.  I'm glad that everything fell into place allowing it to go off--and so smoothly.  I even had a better handle on Spanish than I realized!  The food was very yummy, the laughter, regional beers, and margaritas were plentiful, and the weather was divine.  So many new and interesting experiences for me and to share them with my mom and grandma made it all the sweeter.  Memories to last a lifetime, that's for sure.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Inspiration Thursday - Grandma Nina

My Grandma Nina is my inspiration for this week.  I've missed a couple.  Oooops.  At least last week I had a good excuse!  I was in Mexico with my mom and grandma.
My grandma is in her mid-80s and she still is up for an adventure. An international adventure even!  The Mexico trip was all her idea!  I love that.  It make my heart full of gladness.
She's still sharp as a tack, too, and loaded with great stories.  We had a swell week playing cards, laughing at jokes, talking about books, and even a little bit of singing together.   I especially enjoyed all her stories about previous trips she'd taken with my grandpa, both domestically and abroad.  She has seen so much of this glorious world!  What a gift!
Grandma may be taking life at a slightly slower pace than the days of my youth (where she--at least in my mind--could do anything), but I was never the less impressed by her stamina at present.  We walked for miles every day and spent hours and hours in the sunshine and fresh air!  When we were contemplating parasailing she was all for it.  At the grocery store Grandma was the one who suggested we try cactus with our stir-fry.  At then end of a busy day she was still game for a stroll down the boardwalk with me.  She even had a bum foot, but didn't let it stop her.
She is full of life and still so interested in new experiences.  I find that to be an inspiration, a goal to shoot for.  I hope that I am on a path to follow in her footsteps.  May the adventure never end!  For both of us!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Bright Lemon Pasta Delight!

As with the cauliflower tacos, I fear I might wear Matt out on this recipe.  I am just so in taken with it I basically drool at the mention of it.  I want this lemon goodness on the menu every week.  The scrumptious bright flavors, the satisfying, comforting textures...mmmmmmm, I can't seem to get enough.  Usually I'm not too picky about fresh lemon juice vs. bottled, but I do think fresh is fairly critical in this recipe.  

This also works well as a sauce for rice, though I do prefer it on pasta.  But, duh!  It's pasta!
Lemon Pasta Delight with pine nuts
Lemon Pasta Delight
4-6 servings pasta
1/3 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced/micro-planed
1 1/2 t honey
1/2 t Dijon or brown mustard
2 T olive oil
2 t lemon zest (zest lemons prior to juicing)
1/3 C toasted nuts--chopped walnuts, almond slivers, pine nuts, etc.
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped
Several twists fresh ground black pepper, to taste
salt, to taste

Make pasta directed (reserve a little of the pasta cooking water).  
Whisk all other ingredients together (except nuts and parsley). 
Toss pasta/rice with the toasted nuts, parsley, and lemon sauce.  If the pasta is too dry add the reserved cooking water--1 T at a time--until it achieves a better ratio. 

Variation: Place all ingredients except pasta in blender and puree into a lemony pesto-like sauce.  Reserve some toasted nuts for the top!
Lemon Pasta Delight - Pesto Style

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A New Look for an Old Couch

In all likelihood we "should" buy a new couch.  (And by "new couch" I mean a nice used couch.)  But, Matt and I like to do things in our own way, of course, so we didn't buy a new couch.  We just found a workaround.
See, we have a swell brown leather couch that Matt has owned as long as I've known him.  He bought it from a roommate who bought it from a roommate who bought it used.  Or something like that.  This is really a testament to leather's durability.  (I realize this is an decidedly un-vegan thing for me to say, but it is the truth and it's not like I bought the leather new or anything so....)  Nothing lasts forever though, not even leather.
The cushions are now splattered with holes, the leather worn thin by the countless butts to sit on them.  We flipped the cushions over when the holes first appeared, but eventually both sides were shot through with holes and that stopgap became decidedly less effective.
That was a real shame, too, because the couch in question is comfortable as all get out and the rest of the leather is still in fantastic condition.  Just look at the difference in color between the arm/back of the couch and the seat in the photo above!
This lead to a what-should-we-do-about-the-couch conversation.  We didn't want to throw it out since that seemed like a real waste.  I mean, what a huge piece of garbage to toss into the landfill!!  Egads.  I just hate to think of it.  At the same time is is not like we could sell it or give it to charity, given its condition.  It hardly even seemed worth offering for free on Craigslist or something like that.

Besides, if we replaced it who knew if the new one could come close to being as comfortable.  So, I decided to try making new cushion covers instead.
After a trial run with some black fabric (which didn't match the look and showed the cat hair horribly) I found some fabric in my stash with a rusty brown that matched super nicely!  I have a dress made from the same fabric and so now I can be totally camouflaged sitting on the couch, too.  This is silly and, I must confess, makes me smile.
I will only briefly mention the absolute Beth-fails-at-math-spectacular that came about during the construction of these new cushion covers.  After the, oh, seventh measuring error I was surprised at my ability to still laugh at myself.  It was absurd.  One of the covers is now pieced together from about five bits of fabric...though I do think the original piece would have been big enough, you know, if I wasn't such a scatterbrain when it comes to planning and measuring.  Numbers aren't my strong suit, but perseverance might be.  So, all is well.
Matt and I both like how it turned out a great deal, as do the cats.  Of course, this is really just another stopgap--postponing the inevitable--but this old couch has life in it yet and that makes this project very satisfying to me.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Cashews, Pasta, Mushrooms and Other Things I LOVE

When the Good Earth Market was having their going-out-of-business sale we quickly snapped up all the cashews that were available.  There is no such thing as too many cashews.  We love nuts, but cashews are the favorite in our household.  Toasted with a little spice or salt makes a yummy snack.  Heck, even raw and unsalted I find them to be tasty. 

Cashews are also a critical "secret" ingredient in awesome vegan cuisine.  With the Vitamix we can make cashews into a heavenly creamy sauce in a matter of minutes.  (It can be done with a standard blender, too, but only if the cashews are soaked 12-24 hours in advance.)  Cashew sauce is very versatile, being able to fill in for all sort of things requiring a decadent mouthfeel.  Its perfect for, say,  creamy desserts (cheesecake!), or rich, satisfying casseroles and, in this case, an amazing pasta sauce.

This was the recipe that inspired the recent non-dairy milk post.
Pasta in Creamy Cashew Sauce with Marinated Mushrooms
Marinade:
1/3 C tamari (or soy sauce)
1/3 C maple syrup
1/8 C apple cider vinegar
1/8 C olive oil
1 t sesame oil
Creamy Sauce:
1 C cashews
1 C non-dairy milk
1/4 C nutritional yeast
1 C silken tofu
The Rest:
1 pint mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, chopped
3 C seasonal veg of choice, chopped
1 T vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
short pasta, such as penne, fussili, or shells
parsley (optional garnish)

Combine marinade ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.  
Place sliced mushrooms into the marinade for at least 20 minutes, but the longer the better.
Add mushrooms, onions, and any other veg to a skillet preheated with vegetable oil and saute until all are nearly cooked.  Vegetables such as green beans can be parboiled prior to this if a more tender texture is desired.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta as directed on the package.
When the vegetables are cooked remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the garlic to the skillet and saute until aromatic.  
Take off heat.
Puree the creamy sauce ingredients in a Vitamix or blender until very smooth.
Add the creamy sauce to the garlic oil and let set a few minutes to thicken and absorb the garlic flavor.
Stir the cooked pasta and the veg into the cream sauce until well combined.
Serve garnished with parsley 

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Podium: A Hierarchy of Non-Dairy Milks

Mac-n-Cheese
Matt and I made this super-duper yummy pasta with a mushroom cream sauce that I love for dinner recently.   The cream sauce was a mixture of rice milk, almond milk, and raw cashews.  We blended the rice milk and almond milk because we didn't want the stronger flavor of the almonds to overpower the garlic infused into the sauce, but we didn't want to just use rice milk either because it is so thin and contains basically no fat--and fat is a critical component to a white cream sauce.  This led to an interesting conversation in which we ranked the various milks we use on their merits.  Tastes are so personal that this may not be interesting to anyone but me, but none the less...
Christmas sugar cookies.
The Podium:  Soy Milk, Coconut Milk, Cashew Milk.

Matt and I go back and forth on who gets the gold, silver, and bronze precisely, but these three are definitely our top picks.  All are relatively neutral in taste which suites them to an abundance of applications.  All three contain a reasonable amount of fat which imparts a smoother mouthfeel and helps when thickening cream sauces or desserts.
Mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, seitan, and corn.
Matt says soy milk is his favorite non-dairy milks.  It has a neutral taste and a thickness similar to cow's milk, somewhere between skimmed and 2%.  It is also usually one of the more affordably priced non-dairy options.  Some people get down on soy saying it causes cancer or shrinks testicles or causes over-sized mammary glands or whathaveyou.  For me, organic soymilk (and other traditional soy foods) is A-OK--with a cultural history going back centuries and centuries.  I think it is a whole different ball game, health-wise, than eating chemically grown and separated, genetically modified soy bits in things like Doritos and Pop-Tarts.  That's just me though.

Cashew milk is probably my favorite.  The thickness and mouthfeel are rich and very appealing to me.  It is a tad too expensive to be my go-to milk, but we buy it for variety from time to time, especially when we spot it on discount.  It is really versatile and can be used in a basically any recipe from breakfast through dessert.
Creamy baked macaroni casserole.
Coconut milk.  There are, it should be clarified, two kinds of coconut milk.  The kind in the can and the kind in the carton/jug.  Coconut milk in a can is basically heaven.  This kind of coconut milk makes for the creamiest, richest sauces and fillings.  Of course, it also imparts coconut flavor, contains copious amounts of (delicious) saturated fat, and is pricey so it isn't something we use on a daily basis.  The other kind of coconut milk is more like soy or almond milk.  It comes in a carton/jug like any other non-dairy milk, doesn't separate, and does not have a coconut flavor.  It has a nice velvety consistency--though not quite so much as its canned cousin--which lends well to making thicker, creamier sauces and soups.

Almond milk is nutritionally robust and has a nicely balanced level of fat.  It is another very versatile milk, though with a stronger flavor than cashew milk.  If my Non-Dairy Milk Options Olympics had a runner's up prize it would likely go to Almond Milk.

Pea Milk is a relatively recent offering on the non-dairy milk market.  I guess I had no idea what a protein powerhouse that little ol' pea might be.  Matt and I both enjoy it, finding it nutritionally dense (more iron and calcium and less sugar than 2% cow milk) with a nicely balanced fat ration and mouthfeel.  It is fairly expensive though so we typically buy it when we spot it on sale, too.
Non-dairy cheesecake with strawberry topping.
Rice Milk isn't something we purchase any more these days.  (A friend had gifted us the carton used in the dish which inspired this post.)  Matt in particular is not a fan.  It is too thin for our liking and not very nutritionally robust in comparison to the other options, though it certainly works, if it is all that is around.  Cream sauces may not be as thick and awesome, but it works.  I find it totally fine in a fruit smoothie, especially one with mango or banana to thicken it up a bit, and over a bowl of cereal.

Oat Milk falls last for both Matt and me.  We don't care much for how earthly it tastes and are unsatisfied with its somewhat grainy consistency.  The only satisfactory use we found was in our breakfast smoothies where its oaty flavor and thin consistency are corrected with sweet, pureed fruit.
Homegrown strawberries with milk and sugar.
Recycling options for the tetrapack style catrons in which these milks are typically sold are not available where we live.  In an effort to reduce the trash output of our household Matt tried his hand at making soy milk at home.  I thought it was fine, but Matt, who is more sensitive to textures than me, found the end result unsatisfactory.  Maybe we'll try again, but for now we purchase the majority of our non-dairy milks in #2 recyclable plastic containers (even if it is a better price in tetrapacks at Costco), supplemented by super-deals at the discount grocers.