Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rosemary garlic crackers

I never imagined it was possible to make crackers at home.

I guess I thought crackers were just something that always existed, like God or trees or something.

Well, that all changed when I became inspired by Julie Hasson's wonderful Everyday Dish blog, and I've been making my own crackers ever since. I tend to stick to her recipe, since it's so easy and good, but sometimes I go crazy and toss in some sundried tomatoes, olive pieces or curry powder.

This recipe has especially come in handy since I've been recovering from surgery. I've been sucking down soup like it's air, and of course nothing goes with soup like hearty, aromatic, homemade crackers.

Try them:

Julie's Rosemary Garlic Crackers
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp granulated garlic
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper, optional (but good!)
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt crystals, optional

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. In a bowl, mix together the flours, nutritional yeast flakes, baking powder, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. Add the water and oil, stirring until dough comes together. If dough is too dry to mix, add another tablespoon of water or as needed. Divide dough in half.
3. Roll the dough out very thin. If you have a small little rolling pin, simply roll the dough right out in your pan. Transfer the dough to a Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet. Score the dough into squares so that it's cut, but not separated into pieces. If desired, sprinkle a little coarse salt over the tops of the crackers and lightly press into dough with the rolling pin. Repeat with second piece of dough.
4. Bake crackers in preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until golden and crackers look crisp. Let crackers cool in pan before removing. They will crisp up as they cool. If crackers are still a little soft, place bake in oven and bake for another five or so minutes until crisp.

Copyright © 2008 Julie Hasson

As Julie says in her blog, once you go homemade you'll never go back.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bone marrow donation = success!

The bone marrow surgery went quickly and smoothly.

All I remember being wheeled into the operating room and staring at the big lights above me ... the rest is blackness. Suddenly I was shaken awake by some cute guy named Cody. He held my hand and talked to me about Santa Fe in the post-op room.

The nurses kept trying to give me chicken broth or some kind of creamy soup. But even though my lips were chapped and my throat was raw, I summoned up enough energy to hiss, "COFFEE."

Later, when they insisted I consume something other than coffee, I tried my best to explain that I'm vegan, I don't eat animal products and ... well, who knows what I said? I was on tons of painkillers. Luckily, I brought my own food -- a package of Imagine organic broccoli soup.

I was eventually allowed to order anything I wanted off the hospital menu, which had a surprisingly good variety. I got a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat, a cup of veggie soup and fresh fruit.

Now I'm at home, minus 1.3 liters of bone marrow. I'm in pain, but it's not unbearable.

I'm trying to send all my good, healing energy to the woman who needed this donation -- hopefully she's reaping the benefits of my super awesome marrow, which was given with love.

The best part of recovery is that all my friends have been stopping by to bring me vegan goodies: Homemade potato leek soup by Judi, spicy hummus from Maria, soy ice cream from Deborah, Native Foods' sandwiches from Eileen ... and so much more. I am one lucky girl.

I also prepared for the surgery by making a couple pots of soup ahead of time. The chickpea noodle soup from Veganomicon is the classic "sick" soup, and I tore through that my first couple days of recovery.

Now I'm working on eating the roasted squash soup I froze last week. I'm calling it Dog Park Soup, because I invented it after a trip to the dog park with the new puppy.

Here's what's in it:

Olive oil
One onion, diced
One roasted butternut squash, cut into chunks
One potato, diced
Two medium carrots, diced
One Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled and diced
Two chipotles, chopped finely (Or just one, if you don't want a ton of heat)
One can black beans, rinsed and drained
Big dash cumin
Cayenne (to taste)
Cinnamon (to taste)
Vegetable broth

First I cooked the onion in the olive oil until softened. I added a few cups of vegetable broth to the soup pot (you can add more or less, depending on how "soupy" you want it).

Bring the broth to a boil, then toss all the big stuff in together -- the black beans, the squash, carrots, potato, apple, chipotles -- and let it boil for a while. You'll know it's ready when the squash cooks down and almost melts into a creamy base.

Now add the spices. I added a big dash of cumin, because everything tastes better with cumin. I used just a teensy bit of cayenne, for the kind of heat that sneaks up on you. And even the tiniest bit of cinnamon will bring out the sweetness of the squash against the earthiness of the beans and potatoes. Don't forget salt.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ironing things out

Long story short: In about a week I'm donating my bone marrow to a stranger. All I know about the lady is that she's 59 years old and has leukemia. A bone marrow transplant is her last hope.

For obvious reasons, the bone marrow donor (i.e. me) needs to be extra healthy. And so I had a day-long physical at City of Hope cancer center to make sure I'm a good match for this woman.

Four chest X-rays, a dozen vials of blood, a long meeting with a transplant coordinator, two health surveys, two meetings with surgeons and one cup of pee later, I was officially declared healthy. All my levels of everything are precisely where they should be. Yay!

Here's the thing, though. After the surgeons extract the bone marrow, my hemoglobin will drop dramatically. So much so that I'll probably need a blood transfusion. (That's why I've been donating pints of blood the past couple weeks for my own transfusion. Weird, huh?)

And even though my iron levels are really good right now, I need to have even more iron than usual before going into the surgery.

So what does this have to do with the beets in the picture?

Plenty. Beets are super high in iron. So are dark, leafy greens. Combine the two, and now you understand why I've been eating beet salads every day for the past week.

I've also been integrating other great sources of iron into my diet: Lentils, tofu, blackstrap molasses and lots and lots of beans.

Keep your fingers crossed that everything goes well for the transplant next week! I've never had a surgery before, so I'm nervous -- but I'm even more concerned about the lady who is receiving the marrow. I really hope my donation will help her get better.

Pumpkin soup

I had such high hopes for this pumpkin soup.

First, I scooped out all the guts (and saved the seeds to roast later, of course), I rubbed fresh sage and olive oil all over the inside, then filled the pumpkin with a mixture of soy milk and veggie broth.

After it cooked, the pumpkin flesh was soft enough that I could just stir, and everything transformed into a thick and creamy soup.

And it tasted like baby food.

I'm determined to make this work, though. I went to the pumpkin patch with Abby and picked up three more pumpkins -- a big orange fatty, a small white one and some squatty thing. I'm going to keep making pumpkin soup until I get it right.

Suggestions are welcome, by the way.

Tortillas from scratch

I screwed up.

I made homemade tortillas, which were ridiculously quick and easy. And now I've ruined myself for good -- I can never have store-bought tortillas again. (Not even the good ones from the tortilleria at the Mexican grocery.) Never ever.

Looky here. You just make balls of soft dough ...

... roll them out into thin rounds and cook for a few seconds on each side ...

... and serve, preferably with charo beans, fresh tomatoes and olives.

Try it at home! Here's the recipe.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Salt and Pepa Tofu

I don't know about you guys, but I lately I'm having more and more of those weeks where time escapes me. Suddenly I look in the fridge only to find I haven't been to the grocery store in a week ... maybe two? And by the time I realize my error, I'm too hungry and tired to leave the house again.

So I was cringing at the thought of yet another meal of Larabars, beans and red wine, when I located a block of vacuum-packed tofu in the pantry. Then I remembered the PPK recipe for salt and pepper tofu -- the list of ingredients doesn't go far beyond salt, pepper and um, tofu.

I had all that on hand! Dinner was saved!

Here's the recipe. It serves four regular people, or two vegans. I recommend listening to Salt & Pepa while you prepare it.

Crispy Chinese Salt and Pepper Tofu
Cooking time: 40 minutes

This crispy fried tofu features the simple yet stunning flavor combination of red pepper, black pepper and salt that usually reserved just for seafood in Chinese cuisine. While it’s fried this recipe still uses far less oil than its more traditional counterparts and far less than anything you’ll ever encounter in a restaurant.

For the tofu:
1 lb firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoons dry sherry or rice wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons corn starch
3-4 tablespoons of peanut oil for frying

For the stir-fry:
1 tablespoon peanut oil, optional
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
¼ inch cube ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon or to taste red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher salt
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Press the tofu first: slice tofu into ½ thick slices and layer between sheets clean dish towels or paper towels. Lay on a cutting board and weigh down with another cutting board or other heavy items. For best results place entire assembly in a sink and allow liquid to drain from tofu for 20 minutes. When ready, gently separate tofu from towels and cut into ½ inch cubes.

In a medium bowl combine sherry and soy sauce. Add cubed tofu and toss to combine. Set tofu aside for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When ready to fry tofu, heat peanut oil over medium-high in a large, heavy skillet or wok. Sift cornstarch into a shallow bowl. Drain tofu from marinade, shake off any excess liquid and roll tofu into cornstarch. Using a slotted spatula, carefully lower tofu into oil and be carefully of splattering. Fry tofu for 3-4 minutes, not stirring to allow it brown on one side, then carefully turn cubes and fry for an additional 3-4 minutes on the other side to brown. Turn and fry cubes an additional 1-2 times to brown sides, if necessary. Remove browned tofu from pan and place in a large dish or bowl. Remove skillet from heat and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Drain or wipe away any excess oil or browned bits.

Pour 1 tablespoon peanut oil into skillet and heat to medium high. Add garlic and ginger, stirring quickly for 30 seconds till sizzling and fragrant. Add red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt and tofu and fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly and gently breaking up any chunks of tofu that stick together. Remove from heat, sprinkle with rice vinegar and scallions and move to a serving platter.

New place in town!

I am a lucky, lucky girl.

I live just around the corner from the luscious, vegantastic Native Foods. Plus, just a wee bit down the road from that is the newly reopened Nature's Cafe, featuring a menu loaded with vegan goodies.

And now, less than a mile from my house is ANOTHER vegetarian restaurant, Palm Greens Cafe.

It's a really casual joint, serving fresh juices, wraps, sandwiches, salads and fresh baked goods. They do breakfast and lunch, and the place is simple but cute and clean.

This Cockadoodle Sandwich is my favorite thing so far. It's zippy and flavorful -- a far cry from the bland fake egg salads I've had from other places.

The Venus Wrap was also good. Just not as good as the sammich.

If you're in Southern California, please support this new business!

They are located in the same plaza as Palm Springs Cyclery and Revivals, 611 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs. Call for more info: 760-864-9900.