Tag: vegan

Sometimes, Ugly Food Can Still Taste Good

The Scarlet Plate … like the scarlet letter but for food that just didn’t do the right thing.

Since I had to run errands today, I thought I might take a day off from cooking. But when I was putting some fresh produce in the fridge, I was shocked to find more ingredients that need to be used. You’d think I’d have cleaned out everything by now but nooooooo. I ran across things that got pushed to the back of the crisper OR that migrated to parts unknown only to be discovered on the threshold of expiration. I SERIOUSLY over-bought for the Christmas and New Year’s and, yes, some of this stuff is really THAT old! Thankfully, between an extra “garage” refrigerator that doesn’t get opened and closed much, as well as an overabundance of Lock & Lock containers, I lose far less to the trash than I might otherwise. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Today’s find … broccoli. Still looks good, still tastes good. It’s a miracle! I also found a block of tofu that’s ready to expire. Those things made me think of long ago and far away when a friend of mine introduced me to some amazing vegetarian recipes. Back in the late 80s and early 90s Broccoli Tofu Casserole was one of my favorites.

Unfortunately, no one remembers that recipe. I remember the flavors but have no idea about the quantities of ingredients or the cook times. I’ve searched the internet far and wide and can’t find any recipe that ticks all the boxes. It’s hard to think that a dish that was so memorable to me didn’t stand the test of time and turn up on someone’s website. So I have no choice but to throw caution to the wind, try to rely on my recollection and experience, and just take my chances that I can pull together something edible from these sad, forgotten foods.

One of the advantages of being just an OK home cook is that I’ve got nothing to lose by trying. I don’t have much of an ego in the kitchen so reputation and standing aren’t considerations. When I was younger, I admit that I was sometimes reluctant to cook anything that wasn’t a guarantee. Those days are long gone. What’s the worst that can happen, right?

So I’m flying by the seat of my pants today. Working without a net (i.e., a recipe). Armed with a general idea about ingredients and techniques, I’m going to face the uncertainty and just go for it. The only thing I know for sure is that one way or another, I’m bound to learn something.

Here goes nuthin’ …


Olive oil, milk (dairy or non), brown rice, tofu, broccoli, onion, garlic, Worchestershire sauce, cornstarch, salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, & additional salt/pepper.

The casserole that I made with my friend was pretty straightforward. Basically just throw everything into a baking dish, add the liquid, cover and bake. Today, I’m going to add a couple of steps to that to give it a boost.

Drain the tofu and slice in half lengthwise.
Dice 1/2 at a time into cubes.
I like the bigger cubes but you can go smaller if you prefer.
Combine the cornstarch, paprika, onion powder, salt, and pepper.
Sprinkle over the tofu cubes, toss gently to coat.
Put the cubes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 400.
After 15 minutes, remove from the oven, turn them over, and bake for another 15 minutes.

If you haven’t already done it, while the tofu is baking you can prep the rest of the ingredients.

Break the broccoli up into florets.
Rinse the rice.
Mince the garlic.
Dice the onions. This takes about 2 seconds in the Genius Dicer. I LOVE this thing!
By this time the tofu should be ready to come out of the oven.
Heat a pan, add 2 tbsp. olive oil and saute’ the onions and garlic til tender.
Add the broccoli florets, salt and pepper.
Cook about 3-4 minutes until the broccoli is bright green.
Add the rice to a 3 qt. baking dish.
Spoon the broccoli, onions, and garlic over the rice.

Up to this point, everything was going pretty well. But this is where I needed the recipe. Even though I know more about food science than I used to, I made a pretty catastrophic mistake which I forgot to photograph because I panicked. But I’ll add a section about “what went wrong” at the end, just in case anyone actually wants to try this at home.

Add the tofu and pour the milk (heated) over the top.
Drizzle with the Worchestershire sauce.
Cover and bake for 45 minutes at 350. Then remove the lid and top with shredded cheese or bread crumbs if desired. Then bake another 15-20 minutes.

So there you have it. There is no picture of the finished dish still in the baker because it turned out really super ugly (see photo at the top of the page). No curb appeal (or plate appeal) whatsoever.

Here’s what went right …

Right #1: The flavor was pretty close.

Right #2: Cutting the tofu into large cubes was definitely the thing to do because it held up to the size of the broccoli florets.

Right #3: Seasoning the tofu ahead of putting it into the baker was definitely a good idea, and baking it separately ahead of time helped the tofu add some texture to the dish. It’s not something we did back in the day, and the tofu was always pretty mushy. But doing it this way made for a better dish.

And here’s where the train went off the tracks …

What went wrong …

WRONG #1: I should have known that milk and Worchestershire sauce would NOT mix. The recipe back in the day called for a lot of Worchestershire. That was the main flavor bomb for the whole dish and it was delicious. HOWEVER, nut milks weren’t in the mainstream then and I THINK I remember that the recipe called for nonfat milk. I used 2% today because (big surprise) … it was due to expire shortly and I needed to use it up. And what do we get, boys and girls, when we add acid to hot milk? That’s right!

We get CURDS!

When I made this recipe years ago I remember that I used to combine the Worchestershire and the milk and the salt and pepper and cayenne (which I forgot about until right now). Just dump it all in one vessel, mix it all together, and pour it into the dish. That way, all of the flavors were distributed evenly throughout. And there were no curds.

Back then, I had no knowledge of kitchen science so I didn’t know that curds were even a consideration. It just so happened we always drank nonfat milk so the ingredient on hand was always the right one. But in my quest to bring my skills up from just “OK,” I have learned how to make ricotta and farmer’s cheese. Today, that knowledge just didn’t immediately come to me as I wasn’t in a cheese-making context. Actually, I WAS in a cheese-making context. I just didn’t know it! And I imagine that the original recipe maintained a lower ratio of acid to milk so even the small curds that can form in skim milk wouldn’t have shown up.

So I had to start over with the milk and at that point, I really should have moved over to nut milk (which was probably WRONG #2) but I thought I could get away with just pouring a fresh batch of heated milk over the dish and drizzling the Worchestershire. I kinda didn’t. Which is one reason that it’s a really ugly dish.

Wrong #3: I used too much rice. I did look up some tips on how to bake brown rice in the oven, because I remember the original recipe called for uncooked rice. But looking back, I’m pretty sure that the original recipe just called for plain old white rice so that would be …

Wrong #4: I second-guessed myself and used 2 cups of brown rice instead of 1 1/2 cups. I just used too much brown rice and …

Wrong #5: The rice needed to cook longer. Rather than bake it any longer (because the broccoli was looking pretty sad), I took it out of the oven and left it in the dish, covered, thinking that the residual heat would help the rice.

Wrong #6: I sprinkled some grated cheese over the top … to try to make it look better. It didn’t. And it didn’t add much to the flavor. If I was going to do it, I should have used better, sharper cheddar cheese (or a Gruyere) OR I should have used pulverized cashews with nutritional yeast because that would have given it a nice topping, a cheesy goodness AND a better texture without making it gummy.

The original recipe did call for cheese on top. Possibly to help hold everything together, but I’m not sure.

So there you have it. In case anyone wants to try this, here’s the recipe, revised to (hopefully) take care of today’s mistakes:

Broccoli Tofu Casserole

Part 1

  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, cubed
  • olive oil cooking spray (or olive oil in an EVO sprayer)
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Drain excess moisture from the tofu. Combine seasonings with cornstarch and toss tofu cubes in the mixture. Spread the cubes on the baking sheet, spray lightly with oil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, turn the cubes over, spray lightly with oil and bake another 15 minutes.

Part 2

Reduce oven temperature to 350.

  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 c. broccoli florets
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 1/2 c. brown rice
  • 1 3/4 c. almond milk, heated
  • 3 Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce

Add oil to hot pan on stove, and saute onion and garlic until tender. Add broccoli, salt and pepper, and saute for 3-4 minutes until broccoli is bright green.

Rinse rice and drain well. Put rice into a 3 qt. baking dish. Spoon broccoli mixture on top. Add tofu on top.

Combine milk with Worchestershire, salt, pepper, and cayenne and stir well. Pour over rice, broccoli, and tofu.

Cover and bake for 45-50 minutes. Then remove cover, add topping of choice (seasoned bread crumbs, grated cheese, nut/nutritional yeast “cheesy topping”) and bake another 15 minutes til rice is tender.

While my effort today didn’t turn out as planned, it still tastes pretty good. Very close to the original recipe but I think the omission of the cayenne made a big difference. I knew the dish was missing something but didn’t remember until I started writing this up. And I think that the Worchestershire sauce would work much better with an almond or cashew milk because you’d get the flavor and not have to worry about the curds. That would, however, mean that there was nothing (not even tiny curds from nonfat milk) to hold everything together so that’s something to think about. A binder of some kind might be needed … not sure flax would do it. If I think of something, and I have a chance to test it out, I’ll let you know!

As with some of my other recipes, this is vegetarian. Given the curd situation, it’s better to use nut milk of some kind but remember if you use soy milk, soy milk still makes curds. You’ve been warned!

Also, like some of my other recipes, converting this to a vegan recipe is super simple – nut milk instead of dairy, leave out the cheese and use the cashew/nutritional yeast suggestion if you want something to sprinkle on top.

Good luck! I’ll keep you posted if I discover how to make additional improvements over time.

Love For Leftovers

Initially, this post was going to bear the title “No Love for Leftovers,” because I have NO love for them at all. Fore me, leftovers for maybe one meal and then I’m SO done. I don’t like to think of myself as a food pusher but that doesn’t mean I’m not one. I feel great shame in admitting that when faced with having to eat my own leftovers, I do push food. My victims probably don’t like it any better than I do.

When my kids were in college, they were all about the leftovers. But now that they’re grown and enjoy cooking for themselves, the needle on the enjoyment meter points to “Not So Much” when they’re met with a teetering tower of plastic containers.

And so, dear readers, you may ask: “Then why not make smaller batches?” The short answer to that question is: I’m trying. The long answer consists of a walk through my personal history starting with my parents and grandparents who passed along well-established survivalist habits from WWI, WWII, The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl. It could be my genetics but I suspect that “nurture” trumps DNA all over the place. That makes the better question: “What ON EARTH are you going to do with all those leftovers?” Today, I have what I think is a pretty darned good answer!

Cauliflower Gratin!

This is so simple and fast you are going to drop your teeth! Using 4 ingredients (that’s right FOUR), I intend to whip up something glorious!

Remember the Potato Leek soup from day-before-yesterday? It was delicious. And I’ve had two meals of it which is my max. So today I’ll be using that, plus a small head of yellow cauliflower (another refugee from the fridge), PLUS some pita chips that have haunted my pantry for a couple of months (HOW LONG??? … yes, that’s right, but if you put them in a Lock & Lock container, they’d probably make it through the rest of the year), AND 1/2 cup of grated Gruyere (my favorite cheese).

Again, this is NOT vegan, but it IS vegetarian, and if you make that soup recipe with the suggested alterations, this CAN BE vegan (I have a substitute option for the cheese later on). So … here we go!

Cauliflower Gratin

  • 1 1/2 cups Potato Leek Soup (see 2/5 blog post)
  • 1 1# head of cauliflower (any color)
  • 1/4 c. bread crumbs (I’m using the aforementioned pita chips)
  • 1/2 c. grated gruyere

Preheat your oven to 375. This makes a smaller portion (surprise!), so I’m going to use my countertop oven to save energy.

This saved my bacon over Christmas when my oven went out!
Break the cauliflower into florets
Bring 4 cups water to boil, add florets, cook for 3 minutes til not quite tender.
Assemble the FOUR, count ’em FOUR, ingredients and baking dish.
Florets, soup, gruyere, “bread” (aka PITA) crumbs.

Again, this is the leftover Potato Leek Soup from Wednesday’s blog. I used my Ninja “Bowl” food processor to make the crumbs with the pita chips and I also used the Ninja for the cheese to save having to grate it by hand.

A small handful of chips yields about 1/4 cup crumbs, and 2.5 oz. of gruyere, blitzed in the Ninja, yields about the 1/2 cup suggested. You can always add more cheese, or use more crumbs, depending on your taste.

As I mentioned, this is a vegetarian recipe; however, to make it vegan, start with the soup recipe. Be sure to follow the conversion suggestions on that blog: Coconut milk/cream instead of heavy cream, vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, and plant-based butter/marg or olive oil instead of real butter. Alternatively, you can leave the fat out altogether and saute’ the veg in broth instead.

From there, continuing with the vegan alterations to the soup, to make the cheesy crumb topping, use your food processor to crumble up toasted cashews with nutritional yeast and there you have it … “cheesy” goodness. You won’t get the melt but the texture is still good. I also recommend making your own plant-based Gruyere to crumble over the top if you have the time. Miyoko’s Artisan Cheese book has a super simple process for doing it and it is fantastic!

Now, getting back to our cauliflower recipe …

Use 1/2 of the soup in the bottom of the dish.
If you don’t like the odd lump of potato, you can blitz while you have your food processor out.
Arrange cauliflower in dish.
Cover with the remaining soup.
Combine crumbs and cheese
Sprinkle crumbs and cheese over the top of the cauliflower.
Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.
BeeYOOteeful … GBD all over!

If you want a nice, neat slice, let it sit for about 15 minutes out of the oven. Otherwise, dig in.

For ONCE I didn’t make a huge batch and I am so proud of myself! Just shows to go ya (as my daddy woulda said) that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! Just need to stay learned, is all.

This recipe serves 2-4, and if you want it as a side dish, it should make for about 4-6 reasonable portions.

I hope this inspires you to take a look at your leftovers and use your imagination. Get in there and think outside that box!

If you’re like me and you really dislike having the same thing 4 or 5 days in a row, this is a great way to save money, save time, use what you have in your fridge that might otherwise get thrown out (you can also use broccoli instead of cauliflower), practice your cooking skills, and discover some delicious food in the bargain.

Snow Day Salvage Soup

Snow Day Salvage Soup

The snow is still on the ground today and I’m still looking for ways to utilize my refrigerator salvage. I made a delightfully creamy Potato Leek Soup yesterday in honor of a rare snow day that just happened to come along during a planned refrigerator purge. And while that batch of soup will last me a while, I still have expiring ingredients to dispatch. So, to quote Shakespeare, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, …”

Today’s soup is my version of “stone soup” without the stone. It combines another collection from yesterday’s clear-out, along with a few things from my overstocked pantry. Like the Potato Leek Soup, this one can be adapted very easily to be vegan. Just substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth and voila! 100% plant-based! I’d have gone vegan with it myself, but I still have chicken “jelly” so … it’s got to be used!

The cast of characters – not your usual suspects. Some of these, I have to wonder what I was thinking when I brought them home from the store, which probably explains why they were still in the refrigerator!

From the fridge – the produce:

Carrots, turnip, fennel, celery, and mini sweet peppers

From the fridge – leftovers:

Homemade chicken stock (aka jelly), red bell peppers, onions

Excess from the pantry that needs to be used:

Onion, garlic, Canellini beans

I also used some extra water and a cup of dehydrated vegetables that I bought from Amazon, just to see what they were.

FYI, they’re small bits of dehydrated vegetables with no seasonings whatsoever.

These vegetables brought on another “what was I thinking” moment. I don’t remember why I thought I had any use for them apart from just wondering what they were and how they’d cook up. My pantry is overflowing with “Gee, I wonder what this is/does/tastes like” items. Fortunately, I have since discovered several uses for them. I’ll share those observations in a blog post some time soon.

The process on compiling this soup is super simple.

Dice peppers, celery, fennel.
Mince the garlic.

I was determined to use my Valentine Le Creuset cocotte yesterday, and it got a bit crowded. It was worth the inconvenience, though. That pot is just so darned cute. Today, I’ll use the BIG PURPLE POT.

Use an appropriately-sized pot to avoid overflow!

Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to the pot or, if you prefer not to use oil, broth will tenderize the foundation vegetables just fine.

Heat the oil until it begins shimmering in the pan. Add the vegetables.

Toss the vegetables into the pot with the garlic and add a little salt and pepper.
Cook til tender.

Dice the carrots and turnips.

Can’t live without this gadget! I’m not a fan of prepping.
My Genius Dicer and my Vidalia Chop Wizard are like having a sous chef!

Add the vegetables to the pot. Stir in the broth.

If you’re adding chicken jelly as I am, you’ll need some extra water.

Add your herbs – whatever you’re in the mood for – and season to taste. I used a blend of Herbs de Provence, which is one of my favorites for this type of vegetable soup. Bring to boil (BTB), reduce to simmer (RTS), and wait for the carrots and turnip to tenderize, and for the flavor to develop, about 20 minutes.

Add the beans near the end of the cook time, and give it another 10 minutes.

If you need more flavor, try a tablespoon of this:

A great cure-all if your soup needs extra flavor.
It’s in the same part of the store as the bouillon cubes.

For this recipe, here’s the full list and quantity of the ingredients I used. You can add whatever you have in your fridge. If you have stock, vegetables, and seasonings, it will come out just fine.

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 carrots, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 medium turnip, diced
  • 1 small bulb fennel, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 large onion, diced (I used a medium onion and some leftover onion bits)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced (I used 2 mini sweet red peppers and about 1/2 of a leftover red bell pepper)
  • 2-3 stalks of celery (about 2/3 cup) ( I used small stalks)
  • 4 cups chicken stock (I used 2 c. chicken jelly and 2 c. water)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup dehydrated vegetables (this is not essential – if you don’t have any, leave it out but if you do add it, you’ll need another 1-2 cups water)
  • Canellini beans – 1 can
  • 1 Tbsp. Better than Bouillon (veg or chicken flavor)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp. herbs de Provence

Heat oil in pan. Saute’ onion, garlic, pepper, celery and fennel til tender. Add carrots and turnip and saute’ for 5 minutes. Add broth, water, salt, pepper, herbs, and dehydrated vegetables. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes. Add beans and check the seasoning. Add more seasonings/herbs if needed. Give it another 10 minutes or so. Serve. Makes 8-10 servings.

This is a great soup for lunch or snack. Pair it with some crusty bread, a sandwich on the side, it’s pretty well suited to just about anything you’re in the mood for.

But wait … THERE’S MORE!

This soup, as well as the Potato Leek soup from yesterday, multi-purpose. What??? Both of these soups are easily repurposed to create sauces you can use in other recipes! Stop in tomorrow to learn more!

Snow Day in OK Today: Potato Leek Soup

Warm creamy deliciousness!

We don’t get many snow days around where I live in Oklahoma. About once every 5 or 10 years we might get more than one or two. Some years, we get none at all. Oklahoma’s weather is nothing if not unpredictable, so it’s always a nice surprise when the forecast is on point and that first, perfect snowfall arrives to coat the ground with several inches of white.

Lucky for me, today’s the day! It also happens to be the day before trash day and that means cleaning out the fridge. Once a week, my kitchen becomes the poster child for “Chopped.”

It’s soup day, naturally. What’s better than hot soup on a cold day? It’s also a “two-fer.” I’ll use ingredients that probably won’t make it another week and save money in the bargain.

The items up for consideration: potatoes, one leek, heavy cream, homemade chicken stock (jelly), and a clamshell of fresh thyme that is on the brink of being not-so-fresh. Add in a few staples (butter, garlic, bay leaves, salt, pepper) and, according to my Magic 8 Ball, the outlook is good for a lunch of Potato Leek Soup!

The Magic 8 Ball knows all!

I don’t usually follow a strict recipe for soups that I make on the fly, but I did write down what I used. Here’s the recipe:

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (if you want to make this vegan, use oil or marg)

1 large leek, white & light green parts, well rinsed, chopped (about 2 cups)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds peeled potatoes, diced about 1″

3 cups chicken broth (vegetable for vegan/vegetarians)

1 or 2 springs of fresh thyme (if you like more, use more; if you don’t have fresh, then use 1 tsp. dried)

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 cup heavy cream

Fresh parsley or chopped chives for garnish

So that’s what I used, and here’s what I did:

Melt the butter in a 3 qt. soup pot
Add the leeks and the garlic
Saute’ over medium heat until tender
Add broth, or in my case, chicken “jelly”
Add potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, salt & pepper
Bring to boil (BTB), reduce to simmer (RTS)
Cover and cook til potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes
Tender taters
Remove thyme and bay leaves
Put at least half in a blender with extra liquid if needed
If you use a Vitamix, be safe and use variable speed 1 and bring the speed up gradually.
You can also use an immersion blender (stick blender) right in the cook pot.
Blend until smooth, add cream if desired, and stir into the remaining soup in the pot.

This is a very quick recipe to create and it makes about 8 large servings. If you want to make it vegan, it’s super simple to convert. Just leave out the cream, use plant-based “butter,” a butter-flavored olive oil, or just regular olive oil. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken, and substitute coconut milk or coconut cream for the heavy cream.

Feel free to add more of your favorite herbs and seasonings. If you like more thyme (like I do), then add a couple more sprigs. Oregano is a good substitute for the thyme if you’re in the mood for something with a bit more of an Italian flair. Or just leave it as-is, add a rosemary focaccia on the side and imagine you’re at a quaint little bistro in France.