kitsch and kin

"You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism." --Erma Bombeck

This blog is mostly about food.

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Meatball subs

We made “meatball” subs again.

Served with oven fries. 

The reason for the subs was to use up some deli buns that were donated to A Chili Home Companion, the chili cook-off fundraiser for Graze. (It was a big hit. Click here for pictures.)

Originally, the idea had been to make a dagwood sandwich, a monster of a thing made with corned beef, bacon, spicy cheese and peppers, but it seemed like too much fake meat—it also seemed like going to the store was in order. However, these lowly lentil meatballs required no such trip. 

I riffed on this recipe from the Post-Punk Kitchen. The only real difference was the size of the meatballs. These were sort of mushy, because of the larger size, but I think that the texture was still pretty fabulous. 

The buns were topped with homemade tomato sauce, three meatballs, and then caramelized onions, and then more sauce. Instead of using tomato paste in the meatballs as suggested, I added in some of the tomato sauce instead, since it was fairly chunky. It was also much spicier than tomato paste, which I thought added well to the final result. 

This is a length of purple potato that looks exactly like bacon, which is why I’m posting it. It’s not bacon. 

Here’s the food processor, before the meatballs. What you see is lentils, vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, tomato sauce, and soy sauce. Not pictured are the onions and garlic that eventually go in the meatballs. The bread crumbs (around half a cup) are also added back into the final product. You just whiz all this in the food processor, form meatballs, lightly pan fry them, and then bake. 

Merry Meatballs and Happy Sandwiching. 

Deep dish pizza in the cast iron.

Tonight was the night to break the seal on blogging again. Tonight I made deep dish pizza in the cast iron. 

We all survived Thanksgiving relatively unscathed, I managed to put together a birthday dinner I was proud of (or at least I was tipsy enough to sail right through), and there was a pasta carbonara not that long ago. Some roasted vegetables, some lentil soup. What I mean is that I really have been cooking, just not writing about it. But now! This pizza! It can’t wait any longer. 

Pizza is something I’ve been craving for awhile. I keep talking about it and keep not doing it. It’s been so long since I’ve made yeasted dough (a year?) that I forgot about how it really isn’t a burden to eat chips and salsa and catch up about the week while dough rises. You don’t actually have to do anything while the yeast is working its magic, unless you want to. 

That said, with a few improvements, the next pizza won’t take quite as long—and believe you me, there will be a next pizza. This version had vegan ricotta, mushrooms, garlic, and swiss chard, but you could make it with anything you have on hand. 

The crust was straightforward. Two and a half cups of bread flour, one tablespoon of sugar (I skipped this), two teaspoons of salt, 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast, one and a half tablespoons of olive oil, barely a cup of warm water. I ran out of olive oil, so part of the oil was basil-flavored grapeseed oil. There wasn’t really a change in the texture because of the oil difference, at least not that I could tell. So, knead for a few minutes until soft and pliable, place in an oiled bowl, covered, and let rise one hour; then deflate and roll it out. The instructions I was following said to let it rise another two hours, but it was already 8:30 by that time, so we just skipped that whole part. This is the part I’d do better—let the dough rise in the fridge while at work, or do an overnight rise to get those beautiful air bubbles. Or, you know, don’t sit around and gab for an hour after work and before starting dinner. There are timesavers here. Anyway. 

While the dough was languishing on the heater (we have these beautiful, tall radiators that are perfect for a bowl of rising dough), tofu ricotta was made, mushrooms and rainbow chard were chopped. 

To make tofu ricotta, just mash a block of tofu with a fork, adding in a teaspoon of each dried basil, oregano, parsley, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper, until it starts to look like ricotta cheese. This takes a few minutes of stirring and breaking apart the tofu. Taste and add more seasoning as needed. Just refrigerate until you’re ready to use it. Or you know, you could just use ricotta cheese if you want, or really any kind of cheese. Up to you. 

So, roll out the dough and double it over the sides of the cast iron skillet, like you would a pie crust. Do you know what I mean? Double the thickness of the sides so that you can press up a nice edge over the top of the pan. I started to shape an edge to it, like you would a pie crust, but quickly abandoned that idea. Add a thin layer of sauce. (Thanks to Sean, this sauce was homemade and canned months ago. It was DELICIOUS and we used almost the whole jar on this pizza.) Preheat the oven to 475.

Top with sauteed and chopped swiss chard stems, swiss chard leaves, mushrooms and garlic (all this was just sauteed in the cast iron before filling it with dough.) There should be enough time to get the cast iron back to cold again before adding the pizza dough. You don’t want it too hot to handle or the dough will get weird.

After layering in the cheese, add a generous amount of sauce to the top. Like I said, we used the whole 16 ounce jar of sauce on this pizza, minus a few tablespoons we kept out to dip the thick crusts in. 

Put the cast iron on top of the stovetop, heating from cold over the burner for 3 or 4 minutes. The reason to do this is to make sure the crust is crusty—I would do that even longer next time to really get it crisp. I was shy this first time because I was worried about burning the crust, but it turned out not even browned, and could have even been a little more golden. (I have an electric range, so I heated up the eye until it was bright red before setting down the pan. I have no idea if this makes a difference or not, it’s just what I did.)

After these few minutes, put the entire skillet into the oven. Bake until the crust is golden, about 15 to 18 minutes. I moved the pizza up to the top rack to let it broil a bit in the last five minutes. Remove from the oven.

At this point, if your skillet is well-seasoned, after letting the pizza rest and cool for about five minutes, you should be able to lift it out of the skillet (with a spatula or two) onto a plate. Again, I was shy, and felt sure that the pizza was sticking to the skillet, and that I should use my plastic pastry knife to cut the slices still IN the cast iron. Not necessary. This thing was a dream coming out, once I got over being afraid of breaking it. Still, depending on how deep your skillet is, you may need some fancy maneuvering or a friend to help you. 

And that’s it. Eat your pizza with a side salad, dip the crust into any remaining sauce you have, and be amazed that this twelve-inch pizza fed three people until they were stuffed, and that there are still leftovers. But not for long. Breakfast is only a few short hours from now. 

Inspiration came from here, here, here, and here. Many thanks for a wonderful dinner, and for help breaking the blogging seal. Props to Justine, who did all the dishes. 

The sandwich to end all sandwiches

Until now, I’ve thought that bad days were basically a really solid excuse to wine and whine after work, perhaps while eating copious amounts of mac and cheese, which is totally okay if it’s homemade, because somehow the craft (not Kraft, thanks very much) of the meal cancels out the calories.

I’m thinking now that I’ve been misguided, and that all those gooey, amazing photos are not necessarily what guides my evening stomach, much less, the emotional part of me that needs some handling after a long day.

Friends, the magical fix-it food is the sandwich.

Perhaps not any sandwich, because surely the five-minute prep of a summer tomato sandwich is not enough to counteract the woes of the workday. This sandwich is going to have to be a labor of love. But worth it, I promise. In fact, each step is a little more comforting than the last, and by the time the whole lot is pressed and ready to eat, well, you’re basically healed already.

So, to start, sweat the eggplant. Do this by salting the half-inch slices liberally, and then topping with a plate, which is topped with a watermelon (or whatever large weight you have around—I’m sure a few cans of beans or other flotsam will be just fine). Give it as much time as you have, but preferably at least half an hour, or however long it takes you to peruse the Internet, wondering which new riding boots you might buy this fall. You can also use this time to prep the other ingredients.

Which are: half a cucumber, one green pepper (seeds and ribs removed), two tomatoes, four or five kalamata olives, not quite a quarter cup of onions, goat cheese, three large cloves of garlic, basil, and sauce

So, while the eggplants are sweating, chop and then saute the garlic, onions, green pepper and cucumber. I left the garlic in really big slices, which was not a mistake. Slice the tomatoes, olives, and basil, but leave them raw. 

The sauce I used was about two tablespoons of greek yogurt, around a teaspoon of lemon juice, at least a tablespoon of capers, and salt and pepper. Just whisk these ingredients together and let them sit until you’re ready. Refrigerate if you must. 

Saute the eggplant. Just heat some olive oil and then plop the eggplant down, peppering it as needed. Put the lid on it and let it cook until it’s soft. At the very end, splash in some balsamic vinegar, just for good measure.

(Look at the color change on the eggplant on the left—you can tell before it gets brown that it’s cooking through, because it moves from that bright purple color to first a more mellow lavender, and then brown.)

Once the other vegetables are cooked, it’s time for assembly. I made two large-ish sandwiches with the ingredients above, though I basically eyeballed the whole thing. It’s a sandwich. Just make it how you like. 

Cut four slices of country bread and rub each slice of bread with a cut clove of garlic. Then lightly brush each side of each piece with olive oil. Toast until golden brown. 

To assemble, put the greek yogurt and caper sauce on one side of the bread and then top it with a full layer of basil. For the other side, layer the sauteed eggplant, the peppers mixture, fresh tomatoes, chopped kalamata olives, and goat cheese. Put the lid on—the one that only has caper sauce and basil on it. 

(I ended up skipping the lettuce pictured here. Because, really, are you kidding me?)

Stack the two sandwiches on a plate. Put another plate on top of them, and then put the dutch oven, or a small child, or your cat, or another heavy object on the big plate. Press the sandwiches until you can’t possibly wait any longer, which, depending on the amount of chips and salsa you have, or wine you’ve already consumed before dinner, could be as short as ten minutes or as long as one hour. Up to you, but I’d say at least twenty minutes, unless there’s good Malbec, and then let’s say, forty minutes. 

Just some notes—this sandwich could be easily veganized by subbing out some sort of vegenaise, vegan sour cream, or vegan yogurt for the greek yogurt, and obviously, you could just lay off the cheese. I had some spicy pepperoncini that I was planning on adding in here, but I left those in the fridge at work, so, next time. 

When everything has been assembled and pressed to your desire, eat your hearty sandwich on the porch, drink your wine, and then later, why don’t you just relax, huh? Sit with your girlfriends and maybe soak your feet a bit. Talk about intimate things and enjoy the safe space. Eat the other half of your sandwich after the others have gone to bed. Breathe deeply, and have a good night. 

(You should know that I got the inspiration from this recipe, and would have followed it to a T except for the excess of eggplants in my daily life, thanks to the CSA (CSA ingredients included basil, onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant) (/promo). The bread came from Justine’s workplace, the cucumbers were farmer’s market leftovers, and everything else was just regular staples from around the homestead.)

Well, alright

I’ve heard a cry for more cake, less Justin Vernon, so here goes. This is the cake of all cakes, the gateau de crepes.  Also known as a gateau de mille crepes. But what I am saying is, I made a bunch of crepes and stacked them up with decadence in between. 

What you’re looking at is the cake without its final strawberry drizzle, but just get a good look at this thing. There are twenty crepes here, albeit mini ones. And they are stuffed to the gills with bourbon vanilla cream. 

However, what looks like success can quickly become failure among mortals. 

I knew I wanted to veganize this cake. And I wanted to bring it to a dinner party, so it had to be good. 

I started with Deb’s recipe, but realized quickly that it called for six eggs. This is a little hard to replicate with non-chicken eggs. 

I would really like to take this time to document a categoric failure. Sometimes things not only turn out bad, they turn out unrecognizable. This first failed crepe batter had the special quality of only burning, without cooking at all. 

After consulting with one of my dear vegan friends, I decided to use a mixture of half flax eggs and half Ener-G egg replacer to make the crepe batter. As I am unfamiliar with Ener-G and also kind of a know-it-all, I measured out the egg replacer without paying close attention (as in, I did not follow the directions at all), and basically ruined all of the batter. Did I mention that it was a double batch?

So. I abandoned that recipe, much as it has served others well, and instead turned to my favored buckwheat crepe batter. I’ve made these a number of times, to the letter, and they’ve never let me down. I should note that I got my buckwheat flour at a homegrown, organic stand at this fantastic farmer’s market I work at.

This recipe is basically foolproof. AND I felt much better veganizing a single batch, hence the mini crepes (by using flax eggs and almond milk, which I think contributed to the nutty deliciousness of the final product). 

The icing was a riff on this recipe, which turned out beautifully. I suppose I would have made a little more of it, though it wasn’t really necessary. 

And then the final product is a delightful cake, that even though it only measures four or five inches tall and six inches inches in diameter, packs a punch, and leaves you more than satisfied. The final version was drizzled with a reduced strawberry preserve. 

Here’s another version of a similar crepe cake—with crepes the size of dinner plates, iced with cinnamon, chili, and dark chocolate frosting, and then chocolate shavings on top. I used the same crepe recipe, but with white flour, two regular eggs, and one flax egg (because we ran out of eggs). 

You need to eat this immediately. In fact, why would you ever eat a regular cake ever again? 

Chocolate mint icebox cake

I should mention first and foremost that I saw Bon Iver over the weekend. And that it’s pouring rain now, as it was nearly the entire weekend. It’s beautiful outside, and I’m so glad that the heat is breaking. A few nights ago I slept with a blanket, and that is a big deal for a lady without air conditioning. 

Let’s see, where to start with this one. I was tasked to make dessert for a family dinner thing. After hearing that my brother wanted cheesecake and promptly telling him there was no way in HELL I was making that (after even being real nice and asking him what he wanted), I realized that my only dessert motivation was to not be hot. 

I know it’s yawn-worthy to talk about the weather—not quite as taxing as me posting pictures of the cat (oh you just wait)—but really, it has been hottttttt here. Not in a go-swimming way, or in a drink-cold-beer-and-grill way, but in a lie-around-in-a-stupor way. It involves wearing loose sarongs and flopping on the couch so as to not move at all, except from hand to wine glass, and also to be exposed to the fan as much as possible. Like I said, we don’t have air. We have heatstroke.

I’m only slightly exaggerating. But all you need to make this dessert is a mixer and only a little bit of time, most of which you are sleeping because it’s resting in the fridge overnight. So, the perfect summer dessert. Heavy whipping cream gets whirled up into beautiful homemade whipped cream. Add peppermint extract for an extra zing. 

The recipe I based this on suggests those thin chocolate wafers—you can usually find them in the ice cream toppings end cap, but not if you are shopping at that bull’s eye store. There, you have to buy Nilla wafers. They’re a worthy substitution, for sure. 

I’m listening to Bon Iver while I type this, and the thought of good winter is so appealing to me right now. I want to wear jeans and a sweater and shoes and socks and drink hot tea and wonder if I need to wear a coat at night. I know that time will come soon enough. 

(To assemble, just layer the whipped cream between cookies and make nice little stacks.)

I used to listen to this album, For Emma, Forever Ago, when I lived in Korea. I would spend most of my Saturdays, especially in the winter, holed up in my apartment eating Korean ramen, listening to music, and feeling so relieved that I could still listen to American music. It was the thing that made it feel the most like home—like I could still connect even if I was elsewhere.

(I made six stacks, four cookies high, I think. Maybe eight. Lay the stacks down on the seam of two pieces of wax paper.) 

There were times when I was there, that I would feel guilty about just sitting in my studio apartment, when there was a whole new country to explore and I only had 52 weekends to do it in. But I wouldn’t have felt that way if I was home, like I had to quickly and intentionally see the entire place I lived in, so sometimes I felt like I was justified in my sitting, because it was attempting home-making.

Other times I felt like maybe I should take that urgency back home and experience home the way I experienced away—more interested, more intent on making meaning. 

(Mold the remaining whipped cream around the stacks, using the wax paper as a guide for the whipped cream, wrapping it around the log of whipped cream. No wafers should be exposed at this point. This step is slightly messy.) 

So, to that end, I don’t think you should waste any time making dessert, because there’s lots of where you are to explore. On the other hand, it’s awfully nice to be home, around family, eating together even when chocolate shavings might be better than chocolate chips, even if you’re already a little bit full before you get to the last part of the meal. 

(After it chills overnight (at least two hours, because you want the cookies to get that nice, cake-like texture), smother the whole mess in chocolate chips, loose it from the wax paper (this is why you put the cake on the seam of two pieces), cut into slices, and feed it to your overstuffed relatives. Don’t bother with getting out clean plates.)

Stuffed cabbage rolls

This unfamiliar friend is thinly sliced eggplant. Be patient. It gets better.

Well, friends, it’s been a long time. I’d blame it on a slow, summer haze, but in fact I’ve been moving at a fast clip since about June. I’ve been busy losing my camera and then finding it again, busy traveling to see family in both Texas and Virginia (a week apart!), and generally busy soaking up the summer in the meantime. You know, attempting to relax. 

I started working at a farmer’s market, with Tomato Mountain. That proved to be awesome, and I continue to really enjoy it, in addition to doing my regular old things. At my last market, I picked up some awesome, organic buckwheat flour, and since then I’ve been shoving crepes down anyone’s throats who will stand it. I’m working on veganizing the recipe, and when it happens, I’ll let you know first. 

What else? I stopped writing but kept on living. Veggie burgers, slaws of every ilk, and grilled vegetables (and fruits) like you wouldn’t believe have come out of this kitchen. I suppose you don’t have to believe it, since I’ve shown you no proof.

But the wait is over now! I present you with stuffed cabbage rolls—an unlikely choice for the heat of summer, but nice in the sense that I cooked a meal with several parts—something I haven’t done in a while. It was the sort of cooking event that brought me back to a hobby I love, and made me remember why I love cooking—within limitations especially, there’s the opportunity and the creativity to make something great and potentially unexpected.

Okay. No more chatter, Fecher. On with dinner.

So, what you see here is the finished product, before sauce. This is tender young cabbage leaves wrapped around spiced rice and tofu. The cabbage rolls are then wrapped in something I call “eggplant bacon.” Then they’re doused in sauce and eaten with glee. 

So, obviously you’ll need a small head of cabbage. The one I had was very small—the size of a league softball. You’ll boil that for two or three minutes and then plunge it into ice water, so that you can easily separate the leaves. 

Before boiling the cabbage, cook up some rice, or use up some leftover rice if you have it—maybe two cups? I’m operating on the rough estimation that this “recipe” serves two hungry people. To the rice I added half a torpedo onion, chopped, half a white onion, chopped, significant amounts of garlic, salt and pepper, and dried parsley. We’ve been getting enormous amounts of parsley in the CSA, so drying and saving it seems the only way to go. I’m estimating that I used at least two tablespoons.

To the rice mixture, add some crumbled tofu—not that much, honestly, maybe 6 or 8 ounces, so like, a sizeable handful. I suppose in standard cabbage rolls you’d use mostly ground beef, and so in the veg version you’d use mostly tofu, but they were plenty filling with the seasoned rice and a slight amount of tofu, which is just fine by me. You could also use seitan or tempeh, I imagine, to the same smashing results. Just season the protein sort of heavily, since you’re dealing with other bland friends like white rice and cabbage.  

So, then boil the cabbage. I had a really small head of cabbage, so I just de-stemmed it and boiled the whole head. But if you have a large head, you’ll want to carefully remove some larger leaves and boil those individually.

(To core a cabbage (or a head of lettuce for that matter), run a paring knife around the core (the round, white center on the bottom of the head), and then whomp the head of cabbage on the countertop, core side down. (Similar to the way you whack a clove of garlic to peel it.) Then you’ll be able to loose the core from the cabbage, leaving only the leaves. This is an excellent method if you’re into making slaw, as that stupid core gets in the way of an otherwise speedy chopping task.)

If you can time this right (a helper is helpful), make the eggplant bacon while you’re preparing the rice. To do this, cut a Japanese eggplant into thin strips (see lead photograph), fly it up good (2 to 3 minutes on each side—a shorter amount of time as your pan gets hot—basically, until the bacon is brown and pliable), and then salt it once it’s cooled. You could probably add cumin to the mix here, to get a meatier taste, if that’s what you’re after. But I’m here to tell you that the crispy eggplant does alright on its own.

So, then briefly warm your tomato sauce, which could range from homemade to canned to just some chopped tomatoes. What you see in the photos is just roasted tomato puree from that there farm I mentioned before.

I am trying hard not to be a TMF blog, and just a regular outlet for writing, so I am going to not mention how very many ingredients from the CSA were involved. Okay, maybe I am going to mention it, but then we’re going to stop this weird cross-marketing thing: tomato puree, cabbage, both kinds of onions, eggplant, parsley. Not the garlic, though I could have, since I have like, five heads of it from Monday’s CSA delivery. (It’s possible that a perceived brand loyalty has slowed my regular food writing. I’ll try to fix that and just talk about the food.)

Enjoy with a side of spiced tofu and an ice cold beer. My compatriots and I don’t have air conditioning, so we have to resort to beverages, fans, and a medium amount of whining to keep us cool. You understand. 

Thanks for taking me back after this long break. I also have a no-bake cake to write about. It’s deeeeeelish, and I hope my brother and his Al pal like it as much as I know I’m going to. 

Xoxo. 

Creative title about kale again

So I’m blogging about kale again. This time the red russian variety, though lacinato works, too.

This recipe is directly lifted from Vegetarian Times, though you can’t see any tomatoes because of how the shot is. I added the tofu, pan-fried with some ginger and garlic. 

(one of) The other way(s) to eat kale is kale crackers, of course. 

These have a large amount of kale, a few tablespoons of whole wheat flour, some sunflower seeds, flax seeds and some water. 

They are sprinkled with nutritional yeast and salt and then baked (you could dehydrate?) until they are crispy. And then eaten, right away, in that weird time between getting home from work and cooking dinner, where I am always hungry and also usually drinking a glass of wine. 

This is also why I don’t have a picture of the cooked ones (if you score them before baking, they break apart very nicely).