In the burger lab.

More and more, I find myself veering away from commercially-made veggie burgers to explore the healthier option of homemade. I’ve been having a hard time, though, of finding the perfect recipe. Either my homemade efforts have been too dry, too prone to crumbling, or bland. I also don’t want to use eggs to bind, so there’s that to deal with too.

I did stumble upon a great recipe whilst trawling Pinterest, and the ingredients seemed to have that stickability factor – these babies should not/could not fall apart when cooking. The recipe is for sweet potato and black beans to be formed into patties, with various other ingredients. There are dozens of recipes that riff on the same bean & potato theme, so take a look around and see which one you dig best.

Verdict: Burgers pre-cooked were very sticky to deal with, so lots of hand-washing is involved. I needed to add flour to “dry” them out just a tad without making them too dry, and to be confident of the binding. The burger patties cooked well in just a smidge of olive oil, providing a decent outer crust and a soft middle. I added a bit of cayenne and Old Bay seasoning to mine, but the gentle nature of black beans and of sweet potato lends itself to accepting a wealth of flavoring options.

I topped mine with mixed greens, avocado and a vegan garlic crema that I whipped up (and keep on hand to use as salad dressing or as a mayo sub). Feel free to experiment – and happy burgering!

Fall cleaning, spice cabinet style

We’re all guilty – whether it’s intentional or not – of hanging on to those ancient spices and herbs in our cabinets. I  know, because I’ve been guilty, too.

IMG_20150906_100151It happens with the best of intentions: you buy that huge bottle of nutmeg, or deign to try something exotic such as shichimi togarashi – and after  a few uses, it sits there in the darkness of your larder, waiting for another time that may never come.

Spices and dried herbs lose their punch pretty quickly if you don’t use them with frequency. Even if you do find yourself cranking that malabar pepper fairly often, it’s a good rule of thumb to replace any of your spices on an annual basis.

I can recall when my grandfather passed away in 1985, as we cleaned out his kitchen we found remnants of McCormick ground pepper and dusty tins of things like mace (who actually uses mace?) from the 1970s still withering away in the deep recesses of the cabinets – victims, no doubt, of the last time my then -late grandmother cooked.   No spice should be allowed to linger in your larder for 10 years!

To wit: respect your cooking and do it a favor (as I did above, last weekend) – take 10-15 minutes to go through your spice collection and toss those antiquated old jars!

Not so neat…

Have any of you tried Neat?

I was given two packages of it, and the first thing that popped into my head was, oh hooray! Meatloaf! At last!

That de-escalated quickly.

That de-escalated quickly.

But my attempt flopped faster than a deflated souffle. My meatloaf looked and smelled frighteningly exactly like the real thing – but when it came time to sit down and actually chew it, well, that part was difficult to say the least.

(Insert Mojave Desert references here.)

So if you have tried (and succeeded) with Neat-loaf (ha), please share with me!

Cauliflower-Carrot Miso Soup – and a caution

I was one of those kids who liked the weird vegetables that most other kids my age despised  – lima beans, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, and cauliflower.

Cauliflower, along with its soul sister broccoli, are still at the top of my list because they’re fantastic eaten either raw or cooked. Plus: those nutrients! 

My cauliflower-carrot soup, kissed with white miso, black pepper, and scallion.

My cauliflower-carrot soup, kissed with white miso, black pepper, and scallion.

After many decades of being derided by my generation (“Ew! it looks like a brain!”) – cauliflower appears to has made a subtle entree back into polite society as a utilitarian go-to vegetable for vegans shying away from process meat substitutes. Almost gone – but not quite – are the days where cauliflower was sadly relegated only to a tray of crudite at parties. You’ll now find it’s been elevated to center stage, having found its star role as a “steak”: a generous vertical slab brushed lovingly with balsamic and olive oil, roasted, then served with gravy, much like a hunk o’ Salisbury steak.

Recently too, cauliflower has been discovered as a decent, low-fat sub for mashed potatoes (although I have yet to try and weigh in* on this matter – for me, the mashed potato is sacred) or as a gluten-free pizza crust option (ditto).

I’ve been playing around with the Big C lately. I love its heft, its clean, uncooked scent, its virtual indestructibility. Treated right, it lasts almost forever in the fridge or freezer.

My favorite turned out to be this creamy vegan soup, made with just a kiss of white miso for that savory touch, and a generous 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast, which gives it that cheesy taste. Topped with home-made croutons or green onions, this is comfort food at its mellow best.

There are a million recipes out there for cauliflower soup – find one and make it your own – but be warned: you might just come away addicted!

*You’ll pardon the pun.

I love when this happens!

How often have you looked through your fridge or cupboard, and come to the realization that you have ALL the ingredients on hand for a meal that you hadn’t even planned?

It's not the sexiest -looking soup, but it felt so fresh and yummy. And no weird chemicals or additives!

It’s not the sexiest -looking soup, but it felt so fresh and yummy. And no weird chemicals or additives!

I mean, you scan through your dry goods, fruit & veg, and whatnot and your smart little brain takes those ingredients, and swiftly calculates them into a total dish you can actually cook? That’s awesome!

That is awesome, and it happened to me last week. I had kale, veg meatballs, tomatoes, garlic, veggie stock, carrots, celery and tortellini on hand. Brain threw those items into the calculator, and came up with: ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP

So, excited, I set right to it. We’ve been having unholy amounts of rain lately, and soup has seemed like a good idea – yes, even with the humidity.

My house quickly filled with the scent of garlic, tomatoes, celery and carrots gently sauteeing in olive oil…and later, in went the veggie Italian meatballs (courtesy Gardein). As you may (or may not) have read in my earlier posts, I ALWAYS have homemade veggie stock on hand for the base of any kind of soup.

Fast forward about an hour, and I added the veggies, tortellini, meatballs and a generous handful of kale to the stock and let it simmer. Of course, I added freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt to top it off.

I love when a non-plan comes together!

I’m a Spice Girl

Hey there! Hope all is well.

I’ve always loved mixing things together to see what would happen. Which is why I did well in Chemistry in high school…I managed not to blow up the lab!

Mixing things together like yummy spices and herbs is a wonderful and satisfying thing. I do this quite often, as I’m loathe to grab ready-made spice mixes off the shelf. I just don’t trust what “else” is in them, and besides, when I make my own, my kitchen smells awesome.

Here are a few that popped out of my head and into some bottles. What kinds of mixes have you made lately?

EABASEDD! (a challenge of sorts)

It’s April in West Florida and it’s hotter than blazes. Already. Having lived here much of my life, I should, in theory, be used to what feels like living in the lap of hell 9 out of 12 months of the year.

Okay, I exaggerate. A bit. Some folks thrive in the heat and humidity. Me, I shy from it. I don’t sunbathe, I don’t play sports in the day (except Shuffleboard – and that’s after the sun goes down, dahling), and I definitely am not what is often derisively called a “beach bunny.”

Where am I going with this? Well, hot weather, to me, begs for cool foods. I’m in Salad Mode right now – and probably will be for some time to come, thanks to a vegan food challenge called EABASEDD – or, Eat A Big Ass Salad Every Damn Day.

I didn’t coin the phrase or the challenge. My friend Marianne – 50+, super-healthy and full of energy and glowing skin, did, on her Instagram and facebook pages. Her salads are always gorgeously arranged, brimming with myriad additions to the usual leafies, such as chickpeas or nuts. Well. From such a nice person with such nice-looking salads, how could one not take her challenge?

2011-06-16 05.18.50One (namely me) is going to try Really Damn Hard to Eat Salad every day, especially since we’ve been thrust into Satan’s Rec Room (aka Florida Summer. Yes, summer. We don’t really have “spring” here). Cool, crispy salads, glistening with ripe tomatoes, groovy green avocados, crunchy carrots, and, hey! even smoked tofu now and then. Salad doesn’t have to be boring. It just has to be a meal.

Here’s my first EABASEDD salad, above  (I’ve been eating them quite frequently, really, but this is the first official challenge-salad): jam-packed with kale, spinach, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, scallions, and cukes. Not too shabby. Let the challenge begin!

Tell me if you could (or already are) eating a big-ass salad each day, and what you put in yours!