Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Eggless Chocolate Chip Cookies

I was craving chocolate chip cookies lately, and I happened to have a recipe that billed itself as "better than sex". I forget where the original came from, but I have it written down as coming from Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit, which does not in fact have a recipe for chocolate chip cookies called "Better Than Sex Chocolate Chip Cookies". 
The ingredients and instructions are pretty much the same, though, so whatever.
VwaV Chocolate Chip Cookies (No, I'm not sure what VwaV stands for. Go google it yourself.)
I halved the recipe, which yielded several cookies. My cookies are not vegan, since my margarine is just whatever was cheapest at winco. 

  • 1/2 c butter
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp molasses (1/2 tbsp)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • as many damn chocolate chips as you want
  • Set the butter out in the sun in the bowl you want to use (don't unwrap it, there are bugs and dust out there) to warm it up to a reasonable temperature.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Cream together with white sugar until it's nice and fluffy.
Trusty spatulas work for this.
  • Mix in molasses and vanilla
I had my doubts about the molasses. It has such a strong smell.

After mixing in molasses and vanilla, the butter mixture should be light brown, about the color of normal cookie dough.
  •  Mix in the dry ingredients. I mix them together first, but you don't have to.
This food blogging thing isn't so hard...

Bam! Dough! It will be softer than normal cookie dough. This will result in thin, chewy cookies. If you're a cakey cookie person, add some flour.
 Let the dough sit while you find your chocolate chips. My pantry shelf is a swamp of winco bulk bags, and I bought these before I bought some other stuff. I don't know if the sitting is necessary, but it might give the whole wheat flour time to absorb some moisture.
Chocolate chips. The Hershey's "special dark" ones are actually the cheapest at walmart, beating out Nestle and Tollhouse, not to mention Ghiradelli.
  •  Add as many damn chocolate chips as you want. I follow the school of thought that teaches that there cannot be too many chocolate chips in a cookie, but that chocolate chips should be hoarded as much as possible without sacrificing the goodness of the cookie. I used half a bag for this half a recipe. It was about perfect.
That right there... beautiful.
  •  Put on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes.
When making a new recipe, I make a small first batch to see how long to cook them, how they spread, if they'll stick, that sort of thing.
 While you're waiting, eat some cookie dough. You know you want to. And besides, this won't make you sick, at least until you eat too much sugar and get diabetes.
No fear of salmonella.
 See, could have packed a lot more on there. I left the first batch in a bit too long, so they're kind of stiff now. 8 minutes is about perfect.

Nicely browned. This batch stuck to the pan a little more than I would have liked, so I greased it for the next batch, which used up all my dough.

This is how they should look when you pull them out for minimum stiffness. Make sure they're a little puffy and not too browned.

Blurry cookies!
I hope you enjoy your chocolate chip cookies that could be vegan if you had fancy vegan margarine. I've made a valiant effort to eat too many of them.
Because they are delicious.

Thoughts On Sourdough And Also Life

 First in the post are thoughts about sourdough; second are thoughts about life.
  • Only do it if you can work out a 12 hour schedule, really. 
  • Keep track of your volumes.
  • Read up on it. Even if following a very informative site's instructions gets you a nasty layer of hooch and some foul-smelling goop, you'll know a little bit more about sourdough than you did before. Mike's site, which did in fact yield foul goop and lots of hooch, had lots of extremely interesting information about how sourdough works while Mihl's site, which had some very nice pictures and instructions that almost worked for me, had very little information about why her methods might work.
  • Don't let failure totally discourage you.
At this point in my personal baking journey, everything I do is exponentially increasing my experience and knowledge. I've baked two loaves of bread and one batch of dinner rolls, as well as three kinds of quickbread and three kinds of cookies with my own ingredients and recipes. I've taken a stab at exactly one souffle-like thing. In thirty years, making sourdough might be old hat for me, but it'll only get that way if I give it a shot now. Even if it fails miserably five times in a row, I'll have a funny story and a solid way of doing it when I finally get it right. "Right" might mean going to the bakery down the street and getting starter because I don't have the time/inclination/environment for making starter from scratch. I have high hopes of obtaining a starter, the remnants of which are used to make a new starter, the remnants of which are used to make another new starter, and so on, for years. I love the idea of sourdough. It would actually almost be cooler if I go to the bakery down the street and pick up some of their fancy (i.e. established, proven to work) starter, if they have any to share. Sourdough has history, and I love things that have history. It speaks of tradition and frugality and friendship, things that I value. I want to do things the way that I've done them for years and have houseplants that I got in college be really old and gnarly. I want to have a weird assortment of dishes and utensils that I've collected over the years and that remind me of friends I've lived with, bummed rides to the thrift store off of, or forgotten to return plates to. I want a chair that's in a state of permanent dibs.
I kind of want to go straight from being a uni student to being a grandma. I'll have a tea shop in a sketchy little building and live above the store and sell tea and books and yarn and bake myself sourdough and have a cat and maybe a husband, and kids can look forward to coming and baking with grandma, or knitting with grandma, or having tea with grandma, or reading with grandma... Yeah. I'm not horribly excited about motherhood and growing up and getting a real job, but if I could skip ahead to being a cool old person who's seen a lot of the world and done a lot of cool things in her life, I wouldn't mind that.
I guess I'll just have to be the sort of person who's happy with the way she is and does her part to make the world a little more awesome until then. I'll do my damndest to love life with all its quirks and foibles, and I'll try to help other people love their lives, too.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Healthy Bread

This is my interpretation of the Untrained Housewife's Multigrain Bread. It's a little bit dense and the rye flour may have been responsible for that, so don't use rye if you don't want that texture.

From left: rye flour, whole wheat flour, cereal, yeast, vinegar, mixed nuts, olive oil, brown sugar. Not pictured: salt, water, unbleached flour.
1/2 c white flour
1/2 c rye flour
2 c whole wheat flour
1 pkg quick-rise yeast
1 c several grain cereal from winco bulk section
Handful mixed nuts, chopped
At least 1 c water
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp salt
Oats, chopped cashews for topping

Soaking nuts.
Get the nuts soaking for about an hour before you put in the cereal. You can deal with some crunchy cereal bits, but crunchy nuts in a nice slice of bread are unpleasant.

My cereal is small and chopped up. It worked okay.

Cereal, nuts, and lots of water.
 Add the cereal to the nuts, and then add more water than you think you need. I didn't add quite enough, so I had to add more later.
Soak for a couple hours.
Three kinds of flour: Rye (dark brown), unbleached (white), whole wheat (reddish brown)
 Mix your flours, and add in a packet of yeast. Mix it up really well. This is where the recipe really deviates from my usual yeast usage, since you normally soak the yeast to make sure it's alive, then add everything in. Here, you just kind of hope for the best.

Flours mixed with yeast; whole bowl of soaking things dumped in without draining. In my case, it wasn't enough water.
 Do not drain your cereal and nuts. Dump the whole bowl into the mixing bowl with the flour and yeast. Also add the brown sugar, oil, and vinegar, but not the salt.

The dough was a combination of sticky and crumbly. It was pretty tough, too.
 Mix everything into a dough. It'll probably be sticky. Knead it until it's kind of smooth, then abandon it for five minutes. This is probably so the yeast can decide that it's alive before you add salt, and so the gluten has time to form. Or something.
Add the salt to the dough. I did this by dripping water on the dough, which was pretty dry, and pouring the salt on the wet areas. Then I folded the dough with the salt to the inside and worked it into the dough that way.
The lump of dough after kneading, letting rest, and adding salt.
 It was not easy.
Pour oil into a big bowl and get it very oily or else your dough will stick to it. Put the dough in the very oily bowl and make sure it becomes very oily as well.

It was warm out, so the dough (oiled, covered) went outside instead of in the cool kitchen. When it cooled off outside, it went in the oven with the light on.
 Cover the oily bowl with the oily dough in it with a damp towel and put it someplace warm.
After about 2 1/2 hours, my dough had doubled in size.
Punch it down and shape it into a rough log, then roll it in oats and chopped nuts and stuff.

After punching down and shaping, I rolled the dough in oatmeal. I should have rolled it in chopped cashews as well, but I hadn't thought that far ahead.
Press the topped dough into a greased loaf tin, or shape it into a log and bake freeform. I have a tin now, so I'm using it.

After the second rising, with cashew bits on top.
 Put the dough back into a warm place and cover again with a damp towel. This is when terrycloth is bad. I lost some oats and cashews.
Let it rise again until it's about doubled. Mine was probably not quite doubled, but I baked it anyway.
The directions say to put the dough in a cold oven and preheat to 350 F. So I did. Then I didn't set a timer.
If you do set a timer, set it for 40-50 minutes.
I may have over-cooked mine. The top bits where the dough sticks over the side of the tin went very hard. It also collapsed a little, which may have been the rye flour with its lousy structural properties sabotaging the fluffiness of the bread.
After baking, cooling on a rack thing that may or may not belong in the refrigerator.
It was worth it. The loaf is good, savory all the way through (no huge globs of salt), and the texture is dense but soft, except for the muffin top bits, which are tough and dry. All the cashews fall off, but you can eat them and they are delicious.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fried Potatoes

Potatoes are as good a reason to get out of bed in the morning as any. I mean, french fries (properly done, that is, so they're a mix of crispy and tender and salty and smooth), potato crisps (by which I mean the kind that Frito-Lay sells in crinkly bags; Pringles apply as well), chips (as in "fish and", found primarily in England, does not refer to fries but rather a thick wedge of soft potato goodness), hash browns (shredded or cubed, loose or in a cake, whatever; tater tots fall into this category), garlicky mashed potatoes (that you make yourself with a weird old potato masher that your flatmate got from her boyfriend's dad, and that you guess on all the measurements), and, last but definitely not least, fried potatoes, preferably with onions.
I'll see if I can fit more commas into this post. It might be hard.
My potatoes, if made in the morning, are unlikely to contain onions because I don't have the time. By this I mean that I don't have the willpower to drag my sorry ass out of bed, scrape the sleep out of my eyes, and make breakfast like a real person.
The way I talk, you'd think I was Pinocchio or something. "I'm a real girl!" I hope this abates upon employment in the real world, which hopefully involves working more than three-hour shifts every three days or so. I'm holding out for a breakroom, and enough hours that I qualify for breaks. Not that I'll turn down a job that doesn't offer those.
This morning, I woke up way earlier than I had expected and made myself some fried potatoes with onions. The onions add what feels like forty five minutes to your cooking time, but let them cook slowly. It's not worth it to rush.

Fried Potatoes and Onions

4 baby potatoes or 1 big-ass potato per person
About 1/4 onion per person
Oil, butter, or other greasy substance that doesn't catch fire when heated

The night before breakfast, boil potatoes. If working with a big potato, peel (if you want) and cut into large cubes so it will cook in under two hours.
Put cooked potato in the fridge overnight. Use a covered container if you feel paranoid about your food drying out.

Boiled potatoes and way more onion than I used.

The morning of breakfast, about an hour before you want to eat (trust me on this one, guys. Onions take a long time to cook), cut your potatoes into small cubes, about half an inch at the largest. Peel if you so desire, but there's good stuff in the peels. Set aside. Have a small snack; this will take forever and you will be very hungry.

Cubed potatoes and all the onion I used.

Heat olive oil, or butter if you're blessed with low cholesterol, in a skillet.
Slice onion generously. Cut rings in half if you feel like it.

I consider raw onion to be potential deliciousness.
Caramelize onion slices/rings. Use plenty of oil; you'll need it for the potatoes anyway. This is probably the longest step, unless your onions go straight to burnt. Try to avoid burnt.

This is a good time to add potatoes.
 When onions are brown, but not black yet, add cubed potatoes and some salt.

If you used butter, the potatoes would be much more brown and golden.
 The amount of salt is entirely up to you. Start small; overly salty food is never pleasant. You can use pepper, too.
Fry potatoes and onions until potatoes are golden and crispy and the onions are just about burnt.

Breakfast of champions, by which I mean me.
It's a sweet-and-salty thing. The onions are very sweet, while the potatoes should be fairly salty to balance that. The onions are soft and caramelly while the potatoes should have crispy bits and be fairly dry to offset the onions.
I also recommend black tea with sugar and milk to complete your morning.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What To Keep Around If You're A Broke-Ass Vegetarian Baking Fanatic Student

I'd like to offer up a list to new, or newly vegetarian, cooks. Most of the items are for those of us who have just moved out of the dorm or our parents' house and have no idea what to bring for the kitchen. Keep in mind that this is the result I have arrived at after a semester of living where I do and cooking the way I do; you might never ever use half my food and utensils and rely totally on stuff I've never even seen. What I'm getting at is, do your own thang. This is just some things to think about; do not rush out and buy everything on this list right now. Especially the baking stuff; if you don't plan on baking, don't buy anything until you need it.

Things I use a lot to the point paying money for them:
  • A trusty spatula. Mine is red and awesome and silicone all over, which makes it very easy to clean. It keeps stir fries from burning, mixes up batters, and even did all the work for a batch of snickerdoodles (involves whipping butter and sugar; this really is not done without an electric mixer of some kind). You should really like the way it feels in your hand, because it's going to spend a lot of time there.
  • A metal whisk. It should strike you as the right size and fit nicely in your hand. If it doesn't have a lot of places for bits of food and bacteria to get stuck, so much the better. It's great for mixing up lighter batters, like for crepes, pancakes, waffles, and quickbreads.
  • A set of measuring cups and spoons. These don't have to be nice, although it's a bummer when your 1 cup measure breaks a handle.
  • Tupperware or Pyrex. It is worth noting that I call all plastic food storage containers tupperware (that aren't bags. Incidentally, if it has a seal, it's Ziplock; if it's glass, it's Pyrex. I am very susceptible to branding.), even though I don't own a single piece of tupperware. I don't have a lot of leftovers, but the smallish round ones are nice for marinading tofu and storing extra couscous or quinoa. And it really sucks to make twice as much as you need and have to chuck it because no recipe ever makes just enough for one person. Tofu also has to sit in water when it's being stored, and the rectangular ones are about the right size. I bought an 18-piece set of Ziplock containers for cheaps at Target, and it's served me pretty well. Alternatively, get some Pyrex. They're much less likely to give you cancer.
  • A pancake-flipping spatula. Has many uses, some of which can be covered by the trusty spatula, but pancake flipping is not one of them. If you hate pancakes and cookies, don't get one.
  • A decent knife. You don't need a full set, although a bread knife is nice to have if you bake bread or buy fancy bread from the bakery down the street (or, in my case, the $.98 french breads from walmart). A paring knife is really all you need, unless you regularly cut really large vegetables (like watermelons, although squash and eggplant and beets would probably like large knives as well). My point is, get one knife at a time, and just get ones you need. You can buy a fancy cutco or ceramic set when you pay off your student loans. I currently own three paring knives that I bought for the bird beak knife in the set that cuts apples really nicely. The rest are my housemates' and do include a butcher knife, a bread knife, and at least five steak knives. I do use them, but I don't need to buy any right now.
  • A small saucepan. Smaller is better, since I tend to only cook servings of rice, quinoa, and couscous for myself, and that only takes about 1/4 cup of dry food, or 1 cup water at the most. With a big pan, a cup of water won't even cover the bottom.
Things I don't actually have, but my housemates sometimes do, and I will buy them if I find myself without nice housemates, or just housemates who don't own these things, which really amounts to the same thing:
  • A medium-sized mixing bowl, preferably with a spout. A medium sized bowl can usually hold the average batch of cookie dough or cake mix, and can also hold small projects like a single pancake. I like spouts for crepes, but it's not a necessity. I really, really like bowls with handles, since I find that a lot of my cooking involves pouring things. Even if I'm making cookies, it's nice to have a handle anyway.
  • A small skillet. If you're only cooking for you, you only need a small one. Make sure it's heavy enough to hold itself steady when nothing's in it; the pan should be heavier than the handle, in other words. Don't go cheap on this one. If you can get it from a family member, so much the better. If you have to go cheap, just be aware that it will probably burn about half your food if you turn your back on it.
  • A medium saucepan. Sometimes, you just gotta make soup. Sometimes you make it for your housemates, in which case you want lots of extra soup-making space. It's also nice if you're making a fancy dinner, like pasta with steamed vegetables or white sauce or something.

Food to keep in the pantry and/or fridge
Protein sources:
  • Tofu. If you're eating it regularly, which I am, buy a block of extra firm that has a nice, long time until expiration, and then buy a new one when you run out. If you know you won't make it back to the store for a while, buy two. I hate running out of tofu. That being said, if you don't like it, buy beans instead.
  • Lentils. Even if you don't eat them regularly, they never go bad. They can be mixed in with rice in stir fry, hidden in tomato sauce, or put in soup.I've been trying to ditch soy-based proteins as the main staple of my diet, and these are great for that. Buy it in bulk, and the plain brown kind is usually less than $1/lb. And 1 pound of lentils will last a student cooking for one or even two a very long time.
  • Peanut butter, or some kind of nut butter that you're not allergic to. Get your favorite kind; it's worth it. It'll probably last you ages, unless you're a sandwich kind of person, which I am not. I'm a "I need protein and have no time! Ooh, peanut butter, omnom." kind of person. I also put it on apple slices, and have taken to making thai food, which requires peanut butter. In any case, nut butters are a fairly inexpensive way to incorporate protein quickly into your diet. Loose nuts, preferably with light to no salt, really preferably raw, and please no peanuts, are also great. You can make them into milks, too. 
  • Also quinoa and Braggs Liquid Aminos, but see below for those.
Lots of one or a variety of the following grain-based foods:
  • Rice. Never goes bad and is fairly good for you. Can go in any recipe. Can also make rice milk if you have a blender and cheesecloth. I own instant in a box, brown from Trader Joes, and a mix from the winco bulk section. With beans, makes a complete protein.
  • Couscous. This is personal preference, but I love that stuff. It's a fairly nutritionally-neutral wheat pasta, so I've been trying to replace it in my diet with quinoa. I buy all mine in bulk.
  • Quinoa. When cooked right, it has a texture a lot like couscous, sort of a cross between couscous and rice. It also is a complete protein. See ya later, soy! As usual, go to bulk first and google the recipe later.
  • Pasta. Any kind. Whole grain types are nice for adding fiber to your cheap, plain, practically fiberless diet of couscous and tofu. Again, bulk sections are your friend.
And back to the scheduled "you should think about keeping most of these around" programming.
Saucy sorts of things:
  • Pasta sauce. By which I mean the tomato kind. The canned stuff takes a long time to go bad, and it's really nice for a quick meal when you're tired and still have ten hours of homework to go.
  • Soy-based sauce. I favor Braggs Liquid Aminos (tastes exactly like soy sauce but has lots of protein; has a few sibling sauces on the market), because it's an easy way to add protein to your otherwise deficient diet, but the stuff is expensive, so keep it around for special, tofu-less occasions and use normal soy sauce or tamari or something for marinading tofu.
  • Vinegar. I've been using whatever kind of vinegar I can find in the cabinet lately, but a lot of delicious asian recipes call for rice vinegar, so that's what I bought when all we had was distilled white stuff that A had used half of to clean her old apartment. Red or white wine vinegar or cider vinegar would probably work as well; I don't recommend white distilled because I think of that as acetic acid, used for Doing Science, or as a cleaning solution. I guess you could get balsamic if you're a vinegar nut and put it in salad dressing and stuff, but I prefer my salads naked. Not that I ever eat them anyway.
  • Wine. This one is very, very optional and often replaceable with vinegar. If you're over 21 and have no moral objections to alcohol, consider buying a bottle of cheap red stuff even if you don't drink it. Red wine is really, really good in tofu, since the sharp alcohol taste cooks out and leaves you with an almost bread-like flavor, and the tannins are still good for your heart. White wine works about the same way (just with fewer health benefits), but I don't buy it because I don't really like to drink it as much. If you're under 21, or hate wine, or feel really awkward and immoral buying it, just get some cheap red  or white wine vinegar for liquid content if enough of your favorite recipes call for vinegar or wine. 
  • Vegetable broth or bouillon. It's full of salt, but it makes a good base for tofu marinades when you're bored of soy sauce or are having it with tomato sauce, and it's also great for cooking your couscous, quinoa, and rice. Also for soups, if they happen (i.e. if I get sick and can't function enough to make real food but still sense that I should put warm vegetable things into my body).
  • Flour. I've got unbleached, but I'm trying to make the move to whole wheat, which is more expensive. I'm mostly switching over because I've had a look at my waistline (there are a lot of cookies in there) and also my sourdough starter died. I use flour all the time: for crepes, pancakes, white sauce, and all the cookies and quickbreads and the occasional yeast bread. If you're not making sourdough starter from scratch or craving homemade whole grain bread, don't bother. Unbleached is the same price as bleached, so go with that because it's slightly healthier.
  • Baking soda. Cleaning and deodorizing agent as well as exceedingly useful in baking.
  • Baking powder. Again, baking. Baking powder biscuits, for instance.
  • Some kind of sugar. I don't care if you get vegan sugar or store-brand-white sugar or agave or honey, just keep some around for when your waffle recipe calls for it. And so you can make cookies all the time, of course. It's a good idea to keep brown sugar around as well. Baking, baking, baking.
  • Vanilla. I have one thing to say: Cookies. You can get fancy vanilla extract, or even vanilla beans (and make your own extract with vodka, tempting, very tempting, but very expensive), but they are more expensive. My mom always used imitation, so I have nothing against it and in fact have some in my pantry in  plastic bottle right now. It's the cheapest store brand I could find. My cookies have been widely acclaimed as delicious. Suck on that, purists.
  • Cornstarch. Not just for making things thick (inside joke, sorry), it also works as an imitation egg. Mix 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water, then add a glug of oil to imitate one egg. It makes for awesome crepes (add a little more salt) and quickbreads. A can of cornstarch is a lot less expensive than eggs, in the long run and the short run. It won't scramble or provide protein, though.
  • Butter. I'm pretty miserly with this stuff, which is usually margarine anyway, and use olive oil whenever possible, making an attempt to find vegan cookie recipes that don't call for vegan margarine. I'm looking into coconut oil, but can't really afford it at the moment. It does make a difference if you use real butter over margarine, but I don't care that much.
  • Oil. I prefer olive oil. You could use any kind of oil, and canola is probably cheaper, but I like the taste of virgin olive oil that's as green as I can afford. It's also good for the heart. I hear sesame oil is delicious in asian food, but it's also really, really expensive.
  • Herbs. You can get all separate herbs, but I don't have time to be fancy. The cheapest plastic bottle of "Italian herbs and spices" at winco has served me well.
  • Garlic. Get the fresh stuff and never run out. Use it all the time in all the foods.
  • Spices. If you're not particularly attached to one over the other, get a pumpkin pie blend. It has all the traditional spices, like cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves, in one small package. If a recipe calls for a specific spice, like ten tons of cinnamon, the bulk section is always your friend. Bulk spices are surprisingly affordable because you don't have to buy the container or the brand. You will probably want to have a container for them in the first place, though, but itty bitty tupperware would probably work. Or you could go to a thrift store every few weeks for a couple months until you finally run across a cool set of little glass jars, and make little labels for them, and...
Ahem. I view thrift stores like pirates view treasure maps. Sooner or later, you'll find something golden.
  • Salt. Life without salt is sucky. The beauty of it is that the huge things of Morton Iodized will last you for years, and you can get a little bit of fancy-ass sea salt or Himalayan rock salt for special occasions if you want.
Miscellany/healthy things that keep you from getting scurvy:
  • A bag of frozen stir fry veggies. I use these in a vain attempt to get my five a day. It doesn't work, but it helps. All I have to do to have a fairly healthy stir fry is thaw out about a cup of the stir fry mix. Most grocery stores have mixes for less than $2, and there's a whole variety of them out there. Don't like mushrooms? You don't have to get one with mushrooms in it. Love peas? Snap pea stir fry. Since my cooking habits and whims are variable, I don't tend to get a lot of fresh vegetables. I know they're better for me, but I can only get them once a week, if that, and they go bad so fast and I get so busy that it's just healthier to have some frozen stuff hanging around.
  • Fresh fruit. I keep a bag of itty bitty apples that are perfect for eating while standing in the kitchen, and eat them with peanut butter when the mood strikes me. Slightly under-ripe nectarines or pears are a good option as well, since they'll last you for a while. Dried fruit is okay, but fresh or canned will get you fuller with less sugar and more water, a ratio that I need to push for in my daily life. Fresh is optimal, because you know exactly what you're eating if you wash it off; canned has preservatives and colors and sugars and suchlike. My main concern is how embarrassing it would be to get scurvy.
  • A multivitamin. As a student figuring out my own diet and eating schedules, and especially as a brand new, self-taught vegetarian, as it were, I needed something with constant nutrients. I prefer the gummy fruit adult vitamins that come in huge jars at costco. Do NOT get the bears for kids; they are nasty sneaky imitations of gummy bears and always have been (no, seriously, I remember hating them as a kid and hiding them under my place mat.). My mom the public health nurse approves, although in my specific case, she got me extra vitamin D and probably wouldn't object to extra vitamin B and possibly iron and calcium. This is based on my specific habits and health history and the fact that vitamin D really improves my mood, regardless of how sunny it is outside, and it's not a vitamin you can easily overdose on. Talk to a doctor, which is something you should do whenever you can afford to anyway, especially with a drastic diet change. You don't want to wake up anemic because you don't have a balanced enough diet to get plant-based iron or with a heart attack because you overuse cheese as a protein substitution.

It's important to note that this should not be your whole diet, and you can also do whatever you want. You should try new things, eat salads whenever you can, get out of culinary ruts whenever possible, and always eat colorful food. Yogurt is wonderful, and oatmeal. I adore potatoes, but they're not a staple for me.
Look for WIC-certified food, since that means that the public health department has deemed it worthy for at-risk moms, babies, and expecting moms to spend government money on. WIC soy milk has extra calcium and possibly iron, if I recall correctly. It's also $1 more than non-WIC soy milk, but you do what you gotta do. If you're a vegan with a deficiency and some extra cash, try looking into those.
If you're lucky enough to live very near cheap, fresh produce, just buy stuff as needed for recipes and consider all raw veggies viable snacks (except mushrooms, who eats those raw? And they're not a vegetable anyway). Tomatoes would have staple status for me if I made soups more regularly (that don't consist of some stir fry veggies and some noodles in about 1.5 cups of vegetable broth; lentils only get added in if I feel like making an effort, which I don't when I'm sick, which is all the time in the late winter and early spring) and could get diced tomatoes in one-serving cans. I use pasta sauce in soups instead.
I buy milk regularly (soy because it's better in tea than almond and cheaper than rice and almond, and it's in sterile packaging and so can be left in the pantry until I run out of the previous carton as well as surviving the hour-long trek home from the store in the summer heat), but if you're not a cereal person or a tea-with-milk person, you don't really need lots of it around. Most baking recipes don't call for it, although a some breads and definitely pancakes, crepes, and waffles need it.

Anyway, what I started out to do with this post was to give newbie cooks and/or newbie vegetarian cooks an idea of some things to look for in the grocery store. If you don't have a recipe for something and don't even know if you'll like it and only have $20 for groceries this month, then don't get it. If you can possibly bum food off your parents, do it. Build up a pantry gradually, not all at once, buying just what you need for a recipe at a time (unless someone offers to pay for your grocery shopping, in which case go for it). There are a lot of great, versatile, healthy vegetarian foods that I don't have on this list because I don't cook with them. Like beans other than lentils.
I feel like I'm back in my public speaking class, where we were taught to repeat the main points three times through the course of a speech. So here's my final summary:
Buy food you like and can afford, but make sure you have some healthy food. Don't worry too much about kitchen stuff; the world won't end if you don't have a spatula. Buy perishables according to a recipe, but think bulk food sections for nonperishables.
And above all, love life and enjoy all aspects of your food.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

We're Making Sourdough! Day 8/ Rye Day 4: Giving Up

Sorry this was delayed. At the end of the post, or half way through or so, you'll see why. I kind of quit the homemade starter thing for now, mostly because it uses up a lot of flour and doesn't give me any results, and I don't really want yet another thing in my life that's taking lots of effort but producing no results. So, without further ado, day 8/ rye day 4.

Day 8 (11:30): Some bubbles on top, but no change in volume. Yeasty smell in the oven, but not in the jar. No hooch visible. Removed 225 g starter, leaving 225 g in the jar, and added 100 g tap water and 50 g whole wheat flour.

It's doing something other than making hooch = success.

Ah, new lines.

Regrettably, I didn't take a picture of what it looked like in the afternoon. There was a thick layer of bubbles on top of a thick layer of liquid-looking stuff, which was on top of a much thicker layer of flour gloop. The overall volume did not change. So, I stirred it and put it back in the oven.
It promptly went flat and had developed a thin layer of hooch on top by four hours later. It smelled terrible. 

So, at 23:30 or so, I chucked it down the sink and rinsed out the applesauce jar.

Return of the Hooch

Lots of hooch.

 Maybe one of these days I'll get some starter from the bakery down the street, but for now I'm going to focus on other things.Like waffles.

Deviled Eggs and "Vegetarian Diplomacy"

My housemates and I decided to make deviled eggs for a birthday barbeque. The following is a mixture of one knowing how to make them by taste and texture and the other googling a recipe.
I know I said that I'm always out of eggs, and this is still true; they aren't my eggs. S had 11 eggs nearing their expiration date, and A decided that we should make deviled eggs with them. I maintain that eggs never go bad, at least not for a long time. I regularly use half a dozen eggs over the course of two and a half months with no ill effects, which includes no food poisoning. But whatever. Deviled eggs are good.

Deviled Eggs According To S And A

This is S and A. And the deviled eggs, which are hard to see because of the flash.
Mayonnaise or miracle whip
Mustard (do not use with miracle whip unless you are a mustard fanatic)
Onion, cut in half

Hard boil your eggs, as many as you want, any size you want. This is accomplished by putting eggs in a pan, covering eggs with cold water, and heating to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes, possibly longer for particularly large eggs.
Run cool water over the eggs until the shells are cool in your hand. Peel the eggs and rinse off shell bits.
Cut eggs in half lengthwise and put yolks in a bowl; set egg whites on a plate or deviled egg holder, but if you have a deviled egg holder, why are you reading this recipe? You should have ovals on the flat side, not circles. Try to keep the eggs intact, but it's not a problem as far as edibility if they tear. It helps if you have a sort of assembly line: two people work on eggs, if there's more than five of them, and one person cuts them in half and scoops out yolk.
Ovals, not circles.

Once you've done this, add a little mayonnaise to the yolks. Start with a small spoonful and work it in, and add more if the yolks are still crumbly. It took about two large, heaping soup spoonfuls for 11 eggs for the yolks to go fluffy.
Add in a few spoonfuls of mustard. Again, start small. Taste for proper amounts.
Now for that onion. Scrape the cut edge over the bowl of fluffy yolks with the flat edge of a fork or table knife. You don't need a whole lot of onion juice.
Fluff yolk mixture. Taste. Feel cholesterol levels skyrocket. Be reminded of pickles, for some reason, and a hundred family dinners. Feel warmth towards your family. Add more mustard if needed.
They should be more yellow than in this picture.

Back to the egg whites. Take a spoonful of yolk mixture and scrape it off the spoon with an egg. You're trying to fill the holes the yolks used to occupy. Some should stick out over the top. If you're really fancy and have frosting bags, use those instead to get a nice swirl on top, like savory ice cream.
We did try the swirly thing by taping a ziplock bag with the corner cut out into a frosting bag tip, but the bag clogged and we only got two and a half eggs out of it before switching to the spoon-scraping method.
Once all the eggs are filled, sprinkle paprika lightly over the whole plate.
Filled, paprika'd eggy goodness.

Cover with too much plastic wrap because your housemate is a maniac. Confiscate plastic wrap as soon as possible.

I personally am fond of deviled eggs, not just because they remind me of my family, but because they're a great vegetarian (although really terrible vegan) thing to take to potlucks and barbeques. They look nice, almost everyone likes them, they fit in with the atmosphere, and they give you, the person who won't be eating any of the food cooked on the grill, unless you luck out and find a barbeque where people love roasting veggies, a nice protein boost. At potlucks, the same holds true. You can eat all the rolls and desserts and salads you can stand, but these will keep people from asking you if you're sure you don't want the baked beans (with the conspicuous ham bone or chunk of bacon) or how you survive without eating or how on earth you can not like fried chicken.

If that sort of thing really bothers you, bring some veggie burgers and claim a spot on the grill that doesn't have grease on it, or put down some foil, and grill yourself a veggie burger.
Also, preparing a "why I don't eat meat" statement is good. Make it non-confrontational so you don't alienate your friends, but stick to your position. In my case, I don't like the taste of meat. I really don't like the texture. I relate it to vegetables. I don't like meat, so I don't eat it. I also don't like beets, so I don't eat them, either. If you don't like something, and you're a grown up and make other healthy decisions, you can avoid that food in your diet.
Most people seem to respect that, even my dad who sighs and wishes I would "fall off the wagon" and my uncles, who regularly hunt and jokingly threatened to disown me.
I'm blessed with reasonable, friendly family and friends who accept me and humor my decisions. If you don't have that sort of network, you can share mine. They're very nice people, and they usually remember to use vegetable broth instead of chicken stock in the soup.
In the meantime, make deviled eggs and don't come to barbeques and potlucks hungry if you're not supplying a main dish. And keep smiling.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mushrooms on Toast, Or "Nostalgia"

I have a good friend in England. We bitched about the biochemistry class we were taking, did homework, went to movies, and ate out a lot.
One of the places we ate out is Frankie and Benny's, a New York-style Italian sit-in restaurant chain. They served a delicious mushroom crostini, I think it was called, which was basically mushrooms on toast now that I think about it.
When I found a mushrooms on toast recipe on Well Fed, Flat Broke, I had to make it. I checked it against a recipe in my weirdly "hip" british Vegetarian Student Cookbook, and decided to go with Emily's version, since I don't have lemon juice right now and my lime juice is running low. I don't have double cream, creme fraiche, or sour cream, so I used cream cheese. I also prefer any recipe that calls for wine.
I make half recipes, though, since I tend to cook for one and most of these are for at least two, up to four, so I had enough mushrooms to make the cookbook version the next day. I added garlic and used mixed herbs instead of basil and parsley, since I have neither, and used lime juice instead of lemon juice.
Both recipes got grated white cheddar babybel cheese and cremini/baby portobello mushrooms.
Now for the version I made first with decadent alcohol.

Mushrooms on toast

4 thick slices of French bread, toasted
1 tbsp. butter (margarine works okay)
(She used bacon. I didn't.)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 1/2 cups mushrooms, cleaned and then chopped
1/2 tsp. thyme, dried or fresh (I used mixed herbs)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 cup oaky white wine, such as chardonnay (The only white wine we have right now is pinot grigio, and it worked fine)
2 tbsp. creme fraiche or sour cream (Cream cheese in this case)
2 tbsp. finely grated cheese, such as comte, gruyere, or an aged cheddar (I used Babybel "White Cheddar"; this recipe would take two rounds)

 Melt butter and add garlic, mushrooms, herbs, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook for three minutes, until mushrooms are soft.
Add wine and scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Stir in cream stuff and simmer while you get your bread ready. I broiled them with a bit of butter, since I've got a hoagi roll that I cut down the middle for my bread and they don't fit well in the toaster.
Sprinkle about 1/3 of the cheese on the bread before dividing the mushrooms among the slices of bread. Top with the rest of the cheese and broil for 3-4 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.

From Well Fed, Flat Broke

Mushrooms, garlic, and herby spicy stuff.

My housemate's white wine.

One Babybel per two pieces of bread.

Toasting bread. There's a pizza stone because we got one from our briefly neighbors that got rid of it and the internet says to keep it in the oven for seasoning purposes.

Mushrooms, garlic, etc. plus wine.

Cream cheese! It was my roommate's favorite thing ever when I was in England. She ate it on everything except crepes.

Starting to look like food.

I don't even know how I waited long enough to broil this.

Finished product: Lookin' pretty good.

mushrooms on toast

14 oz (425 g) mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp chopped basil
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp double creme/creme fraiche/sour cream/cream cheese

4 slices bread, fried or toasted
4 slices cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Sprinkle mushrooms with lemon juice and leave five minutes. 
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the mushrooms and cook over medium heat for two minutes. Add herbs, cream, and a dash of salt and pepper. Simmer gently for 7 minutes, until mushrooms are cooked.
Toast or fry your bread while the mushrooms are simmering.
Divide mushrooms among the bread and top with cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbling.

  From The Vegetarian Student Cookbook
I took a lot more pictures for this one.


Since this one didn't call for wine, I used milk (soy) for liquidness.

Delicious cheese or something.

Really delicious bread.

Cheesy mushroomy deliciousness.

Very "hip"
I believe it was written by someone's mum, but her name's not in the book anywhere.

 There's something really british about mushrooms on toast, partly because I don't really consider things other than jam and maybe peanut butter to be valid on toast. Beans on toast, mushrooms on toast, dipping toast in eggs... Toast as grown up food is a pretty british thing.
Mushrooms on toast is something that makes me think of grey days, driving around on the wrong side of the road, watching movies, and bitching about biochemistry with a good friend.