A Mostly Pictorial Panko Lemon Garlic Tofu Recipe

Okay, so some people just HATE tofu. T, who grew up with it from childhood, LOATHED it until at some point in her twenties when… she got over it. It’s … just like any other ingredient, in that it’s a Thing to which you add Other Things and then it has flavor. Of course, meat allegedly has its own flavors even without additions, but that’s the blood, and we’re ignoring that. Meat (sans sangre) is flavorless, just as tofu is flavorless. As an ingredient, tofu is fine, and, even better, is lacking weird stringy bits and wobbly things you don’t want to identify. It’s a perfectly reasonable food, you just have to season it.

Crispy Lemon Garlic Tofu 1

This recipe is adapted from Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken‘s.

We realized that, like most people, we’d fallen into a meal rut, with winter casseroles and heavy, savory things like beans. Our attempt at something piquant and unique was this dish, which is both crunchy and tangy. It turned out surprisingly well, it was (mostly) easy and quick to prepare, and a good use of odds and ends for side dishes and whatnot. And, if you love someone vegan or vegetarian? It’s well worth preparing during this ridiculous Hallmark holiday… celebrating the tang of lemon as an antidote to the saccharine of the holiday. *cough* Or something.

Crispy Lemon Garlic Tofu 2

The marinade calls for two lemons, zest and juice; three cloves of garlic, agave, water, salt, and pepper. T left out the agave, and added a tablespoon of tapenade leftover from something, far more garlic than called for, and then she microwaved the lemons, which made them delightfully juicy. (And messy.) (She also did a frankly terrible job of zesting the lemons, because though frozen lemons preserve their great skin, after defrosting, the lemons are too juicy to work with, and the skin on Meyers especially is too thin and delicate, so, a word to the wise: zest the frozen lemons before defrosting, or better yet, before you freeze them…) It’s said that the tofu can marinate for up to three days in this blend, but we find that if we remove the water its packed in, tofu doesn’t need more than a half hour to marinate. We laid out our tofu chunks on a cookie sheet, stacked the sheets, and weighed them down with a cast-iron skillet. After an hour, we poured off all the water, unstacked the pans, and poured on our marinade. After about twenty minutes, we put the tofu in a series of zip-top bags, all of which proceeded to leak. (ANNOYING.)

Crispy Lemon Garlic Tofu 3

We’d forgotten how much of a chore the multi-step dredging food in flour and panko can be… since we’d not made anything which required these steps in about a year and a half, the last time we made faux crab cakes (squeeze-dried shredded zucchini, panko, Old Bay – tasty). Fortunately, after all the plate-of-flour-and-seasonings, plate-of-wet-binding, messy-sticky-hands thing, we discovered that this tofu dish works nicely baked – and there’s less a chance that your chef will get bored and forget she has something on the stove. Ahem.


It’s easy to leave dish as vegan, as is, or, if you’re feeling particularly beleaguered that you’re ACTUALLY EATING TOFU and it’s NOT EVEN IN AN ASIAN DISH, you can use an egg whipped with water to make the recipe safely animal-product-y. The flour dredging is a place to layer in the flavors, to give your tofu the taste you prefer. We entirely forgot the nutritional yeast in the breading, but added pretty much everything else, including random herbs not called for, old packets of Parmesan from pizzerias, a sprinkle of Old Bay, even more garlic (because since when is three cloves enough????), and ground cayenne (because: we add it to EVERYTHING). Each time we ran short of the dredging blend, we remade it differently, and T didn’t follow any measurements at all. (It’s a wonder anything she makes ever turns out.) We did a test run of this dish after making something else, just in case, but it’s good enough to serve as a main dish with a couple of sides. The lemon shines through, and the exterior crunch is a nice contrast to the soft tofu insides. (It’s not as soft as it would have been, as firm tofu gets even MORE firm when you’ve a.) frozen it and b.) pressed out all of the water. If you dislike tofu for texture reasons, you might try that.) The recipe inventor finishes this with parsley and sliced lemons, but tonight, we’re going to make a buttery lemon sauce, which will really bring out that lovely tang. Pair this with steamed veg like green beans or asparagus, a lemon-infused rice, or lemon pasta, or savory roasted sprouts.

This was a surprisingly delicious meal, and perfect for the suddenly chilly evening. Here’s to home cooking, and the attractive nuisance that is a bored person in a kitchen.

Fermented Salsa

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Fermented Salsa 2.6

So, some of you may have subscribed to our photography and have seen the pictures of hot peppers going by. We’ve basically been able to make our own Sriracha-like pepper sauce, along with a coarser pepper paste for cooking. There’s not a recipe for this, more like a series of steps:

  1. coarsely chop a whole bunch of peppers (and some garlic, and lime juice)
  2. ferment them in a 5% saline solution for a couple of weeks
  3. puree them
  4. run them through a sieve
  5. boil the liquid portion until it’s as thick as you’d like
  6. refrigerate both portions

This gives you two portions of hot peppery goodness: one to use in stir-fry and the like (the coarse one) and the other to use as a condiment.

We, of course, had to include quite a few habañeros in addition to serranos, jalapeños, manzanillos, and pasillas. The manzanillos / manzanos were a new one to us – we saw them at the Mexican market and thought we’d give them a try. They’re surprisingly fruity, almost like a very mild habañero. I looked for them a few weeks later and couldn’t find them again, so they may be very seasonal – there were certainly only about 50 there when we saw them, so perhaps they just ran out. We’ll look for them again, though, because they’re yummy!

The fermentation gives the sauce a tiny bit of sourness (on top of the lime juice) and helps to soften the peppers so they’ll blend. Sourness really helps the flavor, and probably makes this more digestible as well. We just like the heat, and go through so much of this that making our own is a necessity as well as just plain fun.

Two critical cautions:

  1. Wear gloves any time you’re handling any of this stuff.
  2. Ventilate the kitchen when cooking down the sauce, or cook it outside (which is what we’ll be doing next time). Honestly, cooking this sauce down means you’re evaporating quite a few volatiles and your house will make your eyes water for the next several hours even running the whole house fan, so … definitely, cook it outside, and don’t breathe near the vapors.

Honestly, you do not want this stuff – raw or fermented – to get under your fingernails and visit your eyeball some time hours later. You also don’t want your house to make you cough and your eyes to water. Or maybe you do – up to you.


Eating the Resistance: Poland

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After Warsaw fell in 1942, it seemed that Poland was pretty much done for. They decided otherwise.

We all know what the word “resistance” means, but Merriam-Webster’s secondary definition is also pretty much apropos. It is, “the capacity of a species or strain of microorganism to survive exposure to a toxic agent (as a drug) formerly effective against it.” We are the microorganisms – small and previously disorganized – who will survive the present toxicity. Poland’s resistance was successful because it involved virtually every member of society – men, women, children, from professionals to laborers and religious people. And, though it was shut away behind the Iron Curtain for fifty years, Poland’s resistant spirit reignited in the days of Solidarity under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa.

Obviously, we need to eat some Polish food to fuel ourselves for the winter ahead.

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In another example of America’s melting-pot culinary tradition, many people from the South grew up eating cabbage rolls. T’s mother sometimes fixed them when she was growing up, but not frequently. Cabbage rolls are a lot of work, as we discovered. The nice thing about this recipe is that though some people add a couple of eggs to the filling, those can be left out with no terrible consequence. Ground chuck and pork is the original meat for the recipe, but it’s easy enough for the veg/ans to substitute a meat-analog in crumbled form, like Tofurky sausage and Quorn or Morning Star’s Griller crumbles. Avoiding all carbs? Leave out the rice and add chopped tomatoes. This is flexible comfort food, and can be as healthy as you like. Cabbage rolls are pretty much a meal within themselves, though a traditional side is noodles in mushroom gravy, or boiled potatoes. We ate them with baked cauliflower, because some days one must double-down on the veg. Some Polish Americans eat cabbage rolls browned in butter, with a bit of sour cream, but they’re also perfectly reasonable as is.

American Variation on Gołąbki

  • 2 tablespoons butter or oil
  • medium onion, diced
  • ¼ c. chopped parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, smooshed and diced
  • 2 chopped mushrooms, optional *we used dry porcini*
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound ground chuck + 1 pound ground pork OR 2 c. veggie crumbles
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten – OPTIONAL
  • 1½ cups white rice
  • ½ tbsp. salt
  • ½ tbsp. paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
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Choose a solid, good-sized green cabbage and core…
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Add a 1″ slit to the bottom of the cabbage leaf …
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Don’t forget parsley; shredded carrot or tomatoes.
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…and now it all gets just a bit messy!

Cabbage Prep: With your newly whetted knife, with which your husband obviously intends to gut a cow, carefully core your cabbage from the bottom. Fill a large pot of water half-way and when it comes to a boil, put in your entire head of cabbage and let it boil. After about ten minutes, we fished out our cabbage head, leaving the water hot in case the core wasn’t quite soft enough, and gently begin to peel apart the leaves when it was slightly cooled. We made a pile of “reasonable to use” and “others” and set them aside. Some people prep the cabbage leaves by thinning the thick spine with a paring knife, and making a slit along it to make rolling easier. Be careful that the slit is only an inch long; cabbage leaves can be delicate.

Rice Prep: While the cabbage is boiling, prepare rice according to package instructions, BUT, only boil for ten minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

Brown Veggies: In your butter or oil, brown the chopped onion for about three minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic and turn off the heat, continuing to stir so it doesn’t burn. Stir in paprika and black pepper.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Roll ’em: In a mixing bowl, combine rice, meat, parsley, and your onion and spices mixture. Don’t forget your salt. This stage is a lot like making meat loaf, and most people advise you to use your hands. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop about a quarter cup of filling per cabbage leaf, cross the little triangles formed by the slit toward the stem end, fold over the sides, and roll them. Place them in a pan seam-side down.

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You will need 3/4 c. of some kind of liquid to complete cooking the rice inside of the rolls, and to allow the rolls to plump. The two tablespoons of tomato paste will dissolve well in water or broth to fill that need. Some people just pour a little V8 in the pan, but cabbage is a watery vegetable that needs intense flavor, so don’t be afraid to add some. NB: If you’re not using meat, cook these rolls for 45 minutes. If you’re using meat, 1.5 hours is your baking time. Meat eaters, let your rolls rest for the same half hour you would a steak. Conventional wisdom is that cabbage rolls are better the next day, and they also freeze very well. And they’re good for you.

John Stuart Mill, in an address at the University of St. Andrews in 1867 said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.” While you may be uncomfortable with the labels of “bad” and “good” here, the point is to do something. Eat well. Sleep well. Do well. You are not defeated, not by winter cold nor war nor work nor worry. Decide otherwise.

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Faster Feasts: Blender Pancakes

Right now, blender pancakes are a thing, probably because they’re used as advertising for companies with really high powered, monster blenders that crush ice and compact cars and the like. The hip move is doing a sort of museli-overnight-and-blend thing with whole grains like oats, which T. will tell you is NOT new, as her very smart mama made these for her when she was but a tiny child, but whatever. Blended or no, we sadly don’t eat pancakes or waffle much around these parts anymore because a.) we’re gluttons and b.) it’s too hard to have just one, and c.) there’s actually little point in making a whole bowl of pancake batter for just one pancake each. We missed pancakes, though, for serious — so we’ve been doing a little experimenting, as usual, and we’ve adapted a little this and a little that to make something surprising. This recipe is based on the one from All Day I Dream of Food, and of course we tweak it to our personal tastes.

We were just discussing chia seeds with someone the other day, and while we tend to grind them into things for extra fiber, we’re just not the Chia Pudding or the Chia Cereal or the Chia Jam people — we tried one of those once, but never got into it for some reason (there’s still time, however!). Still, we were glad to find other uses outside of smoothies for chia, because the little seeds are pretty health-supporting. As stated, this is a base recipe — trust us when we say we’ve tweaked it and will continue to tweak it for savory or sweet or spicier &tc.

Base Blender Pancakes

6 large eggs
1 cup milk (we used unsweetened almond)
1/3 cup coconut flour
3 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp sweetener (optionally, add 3 tbsp. and don’t use syrup)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
Nonstick spray

Low Carb Blender Pancakes 1

This is a base recipe; we of course added spices like cinnamon and nutmeg which smelled and tasted lovely! If you don’t want to do anything but butter these and eat them with a bit of fruit, you can always sweeten them; we enjoyed strawberries and maple syrup on them equally. Even D., who isn’t much for experimentation when it comes to traditional comfort foods really liked these, which was fair shocking. ☺

Directions: Dump ingredients in blender. Blend. If you don’t have a heavy-duty blender, you may want to grind the chia before you put it in, but we just dumped it all in, and it was ground up with everything else.

With your burner set to just below medium, pour batter onto your oiled pan, in 3-4 inch circles. Each side will need about 2-3 minutes. Fry, flip, and plate as you normally would. NB: It is REALLY easy to cook these too quickly – they taste fine, but they look very brown. Go for medium or a hair lower, you’ll be happier with how they look. Secondly, batter will thicken upon sitting so you might need a spatula to spread the last one onto the pan.

One of the challenges of low carb pancakes using coconut flour and the like is that they can be really thick and heavy – these are very close to being crepes. (Stay tuned, we’re going to fiddle with them and see if we can’t make them MORE like crepes…) We’re thinking they’d pour better out of one of those pancake bottles (or, more realistically, a washed out and recycled plastic ketchup bottle). We actually found that these keep in the fridge for a day or two before drying out, which is fairly amazing for a coconut flour recipe.

This recipe makes approximately 12 pancakes; a serving of 2 pancakes is 149 kcal, if you count calories, but 6.73 g of carbohydrate and 4.89 g of fiber… If you count net carbs, they’re 1.84 grams per serving. (There’s that permission to be a glutton you were looking for…)

If you’re still in the camp of feeling chia has a disturbing resemblance to frog eggs, you might find this blender waffle recipe more to your liking. We’ll be trying this recipe this weekend and haven’t yet fiddled with it – but it’s based on Everyday Grain-Free Baking, and is said to produce a light, crisp waffle as well.

Almond Flour Blender Waffles

1/3 c. milk (rich non-dairy options include cashew and coconut)
2 Tbsp. melted butter (or coconut oil)
1 Tbsp. maple syrup (also honey or agave)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 c. blanched almond flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg (or cardamom and ginger…)
3 large eggs, room temperature
Nonstick spray for your waffle iron (or melted coconut oil)

NB: There’s a method to this, so read before you begin. First, heat your waffle iron. Next chuck all wet ingredients EXCEPT for the eggs in the bottom of the blender, and all dry ingredients on top. Blend this incredibly thick batter for 10-15 seconds. Then, add the eggs and blend on low for 15-20 seconds. Increase your blender speed to high for 20-30 seconds, then stop. You don’t want them to be rubbery. These brown up golden in 3-4 minutes, based on your waffle iron.

Fudgy Brownies

OK, folks, this is a recipe you’ll want to take note of, and use frequently. This first batch I made, I followed the recipe. Next time I think I’m going to go with an alternative sweetener (Swerve / erythritol) so that this can be lower-carb as well as gluten-free. I did add in about 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/8 tsp each of allspice and cloves. Maybe next time I’ll add in some cayenne pepper as well, just to take these to that next level of awesome-gooey-awesomeness. Really, people: I don’t like chocolate and I like these.

T. tells me I need to talk more about the baking, and about the chocolate (Guittard Akoma Extra Semisweet chocolate chips). Ordinary chocolate chips or chunks contain about half as much cocoa solids (16% to the Guittard’s 33%). The Guittard also has a much better temper, meaning the chips melt more slowly when baking (or when you pop one into your mouth – to test, of course). This is one case when the dish is all about the chocolate, and it pays to get the good stuff.

As always, there are others baking this same thing this month. You can find them over at Avid Bakers Challenge. The recipe can be found at Scientifically Sweet, or below.

Fudge Brownies 2

Fudgy No-Butter Brownies (gluten-free)
Makes 16 brownies

  • 2 cups (300 g) icing/confectioner’s sugar
  • 2/3 cup (56 g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 200 g (about 2 cups) ground almonds/almond meal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 5 oz (about 2/3 cup) best quality dark chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate, plus extra for topping
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch pan with parchment paper, letting it hang over the edges of pan.
  2. Sift icing sugar and cocoa into a large mixing bowl. Add almond meal and salt and stir to combine. Add whole eggs, egg white, water and vanilla extract and stir until smooth. The batter will be thick. Stir through bittersweet chocolate.
  3. Scrape batter into your prepared pan, smooth the top and scatter extra chocolate over top. Bake until a shiny crust forms and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few moist sticky bits, about 25-30 minutes.
  4. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool slightly. For neat slices, let cool completely before slicing.

One thing the recipe doesn’t point out is that this batter won’t smooth out on its own – if it goes into the oven with irregularities on top, that’s how it will come out of the oven. So, I’d say to use an oiled spatula or maybe some oiled non-stick wrap to smooth things out before baking.


Ambling into Autumn

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Unsettled weather, cooler nights, random thunderstorms and finally coaxing a few flowers out of the bedraggled looking nasturtiums in the backyard: this is how we know it’s autumn. Oh, and the calendar says so. Otherwise, it’s still bright, warm and sunny as ever. The leaves are coloring up and falling, and we see this as a hopeful sign.

Oh, and the turkeys are still wandering … this isn’t really a sign of autumn so much as a sign of them finding ripe olives, seed pods, and other things they can dig up, scratch out, leap up for, and otherwise desecrate everyone’s yards over. It’s a hard job, but someone has to be the high-pitched barking, early morning wandering, “threatening” car-chasing, feather-ruffling and intimidating neighborhood watch.

We’ve been quiet these last few weeks, but things are rolling along. D’s been THRILLED TO BITS to have secured a contract for Thing 1 at his company. This is a classic example of how we get our friends in Scotland to visit us: we get them contract work here so that they can fly out to their “overseas office” from time to time. (Regardless of the paintings the Cube Dwellers leave on their cubicle walls, they don’t program video games at D’s office. They’re just kind of …addicted to Mario. And Pokémon, apparently. And doodlings with Dry Erase markers when they should be working. This may have been the morning after they got the new espresso machine…) D will be glad with the legal paperwork is all figured out (grrr) and Thing 1 is looking forward to popping in when the weather is at its worst in Glasgow. We’re hoping to have some rain to offer him in California, but …well, it’ll be warmer rain, whatever the case.

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As you know T has been trying to beat a deadline all summer (she lost – the baby came early, so her editor went on maternity leave unexpectedly). She’s also been attempting to organize a conference on diversity in children’s literature, and has spent the last month twitching under increasingly rising levels of anxiety. She walks around muttering comments like “how do I get roped into these things?” and “I will NEVER do this again.” She harasses sub-committees and micro-manages, she has accumulated boxes upon boxes of swag from publishers in the entryway, she worries over gift baskets, keynote speakers and generally makes a pest of herself to all involved, but everyone WILL have a good conference, or someone will bleed. Fortunately, for all, the angst ends the second week of October, as T’s desk is metaphorically cleared again. For however long that lasts. (Until the January deadline for the next novel. Eek.)

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D., meanwhile, is a third of the way through teaching his class this semester, and he’s fortunately remarkably calm this time around (not team-teaching will do that for you). He coaxed T. out to paint some pottery in the relaxing quiet (once the hen party finished up) of a Benicia art center, and we’re now enjoying our little coffee pot and ginormous mug. Many more will come to join that one – there’s nothing like a full liter of tea all at once! He’s enjoying all the cookbooks and kitchen paraphernalia received for his birthday (and the lovely herb planter full of growing things), and the cooling temperatures are at last tempting us back into the kitchen.

Which leads to one of our most recent purchases (aside from the necessary purchase of The Fridge of Fabulousness which replaces the 1990’s second-hand fridge we had that gave up the ghost in a puddle of sticky oil and water last month): a doughnut pan.

(Point of interest: To us, doughnuts are the proper spelling, and donuts are …some self-stable, powdered sugar abomination on a grocery shelf. No one else says so, and it’s ridiculous, but why else are there two spellings except to allow us to mock one? That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.) The doughnut pan purchase is, like so many things, our friend Jac’s fault. She got a couple of pans last year, and we watched with interest as she tried vegan and non-vegan recipes in them, with varying success. And then, she went mad and pointed out a TON of recipes all over the web. And T. kept saying, “We do NOT need a doughnut pan. If we had one, then we’d eat doughnuts.

This observation seems to have some merit.

Baked Cinnamon Doughnuts

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  • 1¼ cups almond flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a doughnut pan (6 regular sized donuts) with cooking spray. In a food processor, pulse together almond flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, eggs, ¼ cup of melted butter, honey, and vanilla extract. You want all ingredients to be smoothly blended together – and prepare for them to be super, SUPER sticky. Divide batter into prepared doughnut pan (and smooth them out with wet fingers). Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let doughnuts cool in pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges and then remove gently from pan.

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NB: OBVIOUSLY, we diverted from this plan at the last minute because who would we be without totally skiving off and deciding to do our own thing? First, we used Truvia sweetener – and somehow T. only used a couple of tablespoons, thinking that it might be too sweet. It…wasn’t. Also, the recipe calls for honey for a reason. Two sugars help to keep a pastry moist and chewy because science. Next time, perhaps some of us might follow the recipe here. (*cough*)

Next deviation: we sliced a peeled apple into rings, filled each of the doughnut spaces halfway, pressed in an apple ring, and then filled in the rest of the batter. If you’re going to have cinnamon, you may as well have apples, no? Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji, and Pink Lady bake up nicely.

For the topping, pour melted butter butter into a flat bottomed bowl. Combine sugar and cinnamon in another flat-bottomed bowl. Dip your warm donuts in butter then in cinnamon/sugar mixture.

As you can see, we didn’t bother with the cinnamon-sugaring, either. Because we feared the thick batter would make a crumbly, dry doughnut, we whipped up a quick creamed-cheese-cinnamon frosting. The apple actually came to the rescue — adding sweetness, moisture, and overall tastiness to an experimental treat. A lot of baked doughnuts rely on the frosting – and neither T. nor D. are huge frosting people – so this was a gamble that paid off well with a mildly sweet, you-could-eat-it-for-breakfast doughnut. Further Fiddling (veganizing as well) with the basic recipe to follow!

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Happy October.

[in just]/spring

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With apologies to e.e., around here, the world is not mud-luscious. It is buzzing, and if you go out the front door, the greedy, tiny, flying pigs will not whistle far and wee, but will divebomb your innocent head and make rude and aggressive “move along” noises at you.

Ah, well. Mud-lusciousness will revisit briefly at the end of the month, according to the long term forecast, as March is almost required to come in like a lion, and then calm the heck down. We’ll see. The last week of the month always throws us a weather curve ball this time of year (and, since Virginia got snow on St. Patrick’s Day, East Coast, we are feeling your pain. Metaphorically, at least.) Meanwhile, while we contemplate perfect sunshine, floods, or thunderstorms, we picked up some super-early strawberries because that chia is still calling us. (And thanks to all the people who have emailed to say they’re trying and liking this mix. It is really good, super quick, and opens itself up to many interpretations.) Imagining making a quick-set jam with it — all those lovely nutrients giving you an additional excuse to spoon it… a jam to which you don’t need to add extra sugar to make it gel… But first, T went off on another experimental tangent.

Our friend L., known to two very short, tiny, opinionated ladies now simply as “Poppy,” has tons of good stories about “back in the day.” We tend to enjoy those “back in the day” tales about food – our Uncle P., may his memory be a blessing, was full of those, and it led to many a happy Sunday recreating recipes from the 1940’s. Last weekend’s “back in the day” tale had to do with teacakes.

Teacakes (variation, “tea cakes”) are A Southern Thang, that is, one of those things which a.) originally didn’t have a recipe (no matter how Ms. P. Deen wants to tell it), and b.) was invented out of necessity – either scarcity, or some useful cause that has been lost to time. T’s father, once upon a time, used to make teacakes, and they were, unlike the sugar cookie varieties that one sees all over the web under the same name, rolled yellow cake, sometimes fragrant with vanilla, leavened with baking soda, and about the size and thickness of a halved English muffin. They were sweet, with a slightly soda-tang, and the tops would sometimes slightly brown and dimple.

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T’s father usually made these beauties annually on the 12th of Never, so T. can only recall having them once or twice in her childhood, despite begging … and now, after years of nudges and suggestions for her father to recreate the dish, he can’t remember the recipe. Oh, the wailing! (T. feels it important to point out that she believes his coyness to produce the Super Seekret recipe all those years has returned karmically to bite him in the backside.) Fortunately, there are other less coy members of his generation who do remember.

Though T’s father grew up in the panhandle of Florida, and Poppy was at least a part-time resident of Oklahoma, their variation on tea cakes are close to the same. Poppy’s grandmother’s teacakes were really test cakes for her oven, which was wood-fired and probably didn’t really heat evenly until it got going. She took cake batter – yellow cake batter – and made small, palm-sized test cakes, which an adoring grandbaby was only too happy to test for her.

As others have said, variations abound in the teacake country, not to mention the world. Originally, teacakes were measured with tea cups – actual, bone-china tea cups. Many old recipes use those measurements, which is where our plain old “cup” measure originated. T opted against using her antique (mismatched and beloved) china for this! Of course, any teacake coming from The T&D Test Kitchen will be not “authentic” Southern at all, despite D. having been born and living for ten minutes Murfreesboro as a teeny-tiny infant (apparently “Southern” doesn’t count if you can’t focus or speak). To add further to the “inauthenticity,” we introduced the abomination of chocolate chips!! But the teacakes themselves were tender and tasty and, piled with strawberries, a harbinger of things to come.

Chocolate Chip Teacakes

Preheat oven 350°F/170°F

  • 2/3 C. almond flour
  • 1/3 C vital wheat gluten
  • 1/2 C of shortening, butter, or margarine
  • Chocolate Chip Teacakes 1

  • 1/4 C sweetener – “Fake” or sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp. chocolate extract
  • 1/4 C chocolate chips, optional*
  • 2 Tbsp. almond or coconut milk, (opt)

As always, begin by greasing your pan, and turning on the oven. You’ll need a sturdy spatula to blend your ingredients. This dough comes together like a shortbread and/or pie crust – the liquid is only there if you really, really need it – we didn’t, but it’s an option. It’s important to combine your dry ingredients – flours, gluten, salt, sweetener, cornstarch – before you add shortening, or it may combine unevenly. T. started with a spatula, but gave up in the end, and just used her hands.

Chocolate Chip Teacakes 3

Add your chocolate chips LAST. We used Barry Callebaut’s Sugar Free 52% semisweet from King Arthur Flour, but it’s really easy to make your own sugar free chocolate morsels, and you SHOULD. These bad boys are expensive. Our only excuse at this point was a lack of time. You’ll also note we used chocolate extract. An extract of chocolate is made the same way vanilla extract is made – alcohol infused through cocoa beans. It’s got a fairly strong alcohol note, and it can be as overwhelming as too much vanilla – moreso, really. BE CAREFUL and MEASURE. Like liquid smoke, too much extract is not one of those things you can take back.

One of the great things about this is if you’re a chocolate chip cookie dough eater – there’s nothing in here you can’t eat raw. Don’t, though, because that’s gross. You can opt out of rolling this cake and bodge the whole thing in a cast iron skillet. Bake it for forty-five minutes, check its progress, and tack on another fifteen minutes, with checks at five minute intervals. You’ll want it a lovely golden brown, but don’t let it go too far! Note that D. wedged it into servings before baking. This really helps in the quest to get it out of the pan!

Chocolate Chip Teacakes 4

In case someone wants to argue with us and call these shortbread… Mmmm, okay. Chocolate chip shortbread, whatever. Traditional Scottish shortbread doesn’t contain baking powder, but you can call them what you want. The “cornflour” or cornstarch will help give the nut flour a velvety mouth feel and a richness typical for shortbread, but you can leave it out, if you choose, or substitute the same amount of rice flour, which is what commercial shortbread bakeries use.

Chocolate Chip Teacakes 5

The important thing is to imagine how you’ll eat them.

Happy Spring,


P.S. – We tried that soy whipped cream, which we found at our Raley’s, on a whim – it’s vegan and though it contains sugar, it hadn’t got much. It’s not half bad at all.

C-Ch-Chi-Chia, or, Breakfast Without Frog Spawn

Chia-Flax Cereal 1

(Okay, this is the last time we’re going to mention the frog thing, but seriously. Pille’s distaste still makes us laugh.)

As we mentioned last post, people in need of lowering their carb intake for whatever reason generally find out that their days of buttery toast, hot cereal – granola – etc., are mostly over. Cereal grains and cereal itself can be a fairly high carb entry into the list of foods, and the fact that many of the “best” ones are sweetened… well. And, after our horrifying experience with TVP, we weren’t any too eager to repeat any strange breakfast substitutions, but because we are intrepid food explorers, we… couldn’t help ourselves. Everyone is still talking about how great chia is supposed to be, so…

Symptomatic of a wonky endocrine system is oddly high blood sugar in the morning — and a pre-breakfast morning run or, in our case, slow uphill slog can drive blood sugar into the stratosphere, and then plunge it right down, abruptly, into the basement. It’s one of those things that T’s endocrinologist just says happens – but it means that exercise can be a little more exciting than one expects, what with the sweating, dizziness, and shaking and all. A box of raisins eaten halfway through a hike really helps as does a breakfast with just enough carbohydrate to give you fuel, and just enough fiber to give your body something to work on long enough so you don’t pass out. Runner, writer, and blogger Carolyn Ketchum eats this mix of flax and chia before long runs, and finds it gets her energy to get all the way home for Second Breakfast. (Life should provide two breakfasts, shouldn’t it? Sounds good to us!)

Hot Chia Flax Cereal

  • 2 tbsp chia seed
  • 2 tbsp flax seed meal
  • 2 tsp sweetener
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp cream (optional)
  • 2 tbsp nut butter (optional)
  • fresh berries(optional)

Chia-Flax Cereal 2

In a small bowl, stir together chia seed, flax seed meal, and sweetener. Add hot water, stir and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Please do time yourself, and DO NOT go unload the dishwasher, run out and water the plants, or talk to the neighbor; by the time you return, your cereal will have solidified. Stir in cream or butter, sprinkle with a little cinnamon, nut butter, berries, raisins, cracked pumpkin seeds…you name it (in the low carb food arena) you can add it.

Makes 1 serving, and, sans optional ingredients, contains a total of 18 g of carbohydrate and 18 g of fiber.

This was surprisingly tasty! T decided against grinding the chia this time, simply because she’s afraid of its gelling properties, and didn’t want to it to act on the flax and water before she was ready. (And, since she wandered off, it did that anyway, without being ground.) Despite our COMPLETE incredulity and expectation that it would be disgusting, we were happily disappointed. It was really good – crunchy and hot and tasty. We kept it vegan, using the So Delicious Coconut Creamer for our cream, and a sprinkle of the lovely King Arthur Vietnamese cinnamon (we got it as a gift from our friend K., and have become addicted) for flavor. Really filling and tasty, and perfect for a hot, sweet, nutty cereal …

Chia-Flax Cereal 4

But, D. took it a step further. In his quest for polenta/grits, he took a tablespoon of chia seed, a tablespoon of cornmeal grits, three quarters of a cup of almond flour. Together with a two cups of water – one cold, the other, boiling hot and added while cooking – he boiled the heck out of this mixture and served it with a little salt, butter, eggs and sausage. The texture isn’t quite right yet – too much water made it weirdly fluffy, instead of the dense, slightly gritty, slightly gelatinous mix that is polenta/grits/Romanian Mămăligă, like we ate with our friend Axel, but we’re moving in the right direction. Progress! Until next time…

Sausage Inna Bun: Savo(u)ry Pastry

Well, thank the Lord.

We got some rain, which immediately flipped the baking switch back on.

Once upon a time, just about everybody had one of those cookbooks that come from home cooking magazines. Ours is a Wilton’s “Celebrate,” from Wilton’s heyday in the nineties, and it has all sorts of ridiculous recipes in it which one must use for St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl — you know, all the important national holidays. The recipes are kind of like circus acts – you look at them and wince and then think, “But, they’re just people… I should be able to do that”. Um, right. Fiddly, fiddly, fiddly recipes, with tons of steps, and dubious results. Ah, well. The folks have good intentions, anyway.

Many, many, many years ago, we tried Wilton’s Beer Batter Rolls, which were fat and squodgy, and which we were supposed to have hollowed out and served with chili or a cream-of-something soup – for the Super Bowl, no doubt, but they were just too soft. Though otherwise useless except as a vehicle for butter, the beer battered rolls had a very specific, tangy flavor, which we quite enjoyed. The problem with these recipes which call for beer is that they generally call for a cup out of can — and there’s usually much more in the can, especially because we’ve used European beers like Guinness for cakes and such, and they have those great big cans. It’s really not fair to make slug traps out of the rest when we’re not actively trying to garden and the slugs aren’t really bothering us. (But, not gonna lie, beer traps traps catch earwigs, too. It’s not Zen, or kind, but we can call it Early Garden Maintenance, yes?) Either way, our days of carefree make-whatever-rolls are mostly over, though we still eat lots of homemade rye bread (and, oh, the twenty-five pound bag of rye in the entryway is a Whole ‘Nother Story which has much in common with T’s inability to spot the difference between 3 POUNDS and 3 KILOGRAMS, ::sigh::), but T inadvertently found a way to make a tasty pastry that is low carb and flavor reminiscent, to her, anyway, like the tang of a beer-battered dough. The trick is both seasoning – and hydration.

We haven’t previously given much thought to how almond flour is made. I mean, you grind some almonds, and voilà, right? Well, no. Blanched almond flour is made of blanched almonds – and blanching is a high pressure steam/water treatment, yes? So, though the almonds may have been already silo dry, the resulting flour has to be dried, in a kiln. The lesson we learned about British flour – kiln dried – is that it has to be more hydrated than silo-dried American flour – if your flour isn’t fully hydrated, your dough just isn’t what it should be. So, our rule of thumb with almond flour now is to let the dough sit for an additional thirty minutes or so before baking, and, when baked, make sure it is 98% cooled before cutting or moving it. (We rarely manage that last one, but…) These are two simple rules which help to make your low carb baking more satisfying.

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One of the classic Glaswegian bakery goods is Sausage Rolls. HR Bradfords bakery on Sauchiehall Street even had vegetarian ones, and you’d see people rushing in and out during the lunch hour and long lines just before tea. People would emerge with grease spotted bags and trot off down the street juggling briefcases, backpacks, cake boxes and the ubiquitous sausage roll. Like the humble Hand pie, the Sausage Roll is prized because it’s something you can eat on the go, and it’s quick, and good hot or cold – if you go to a good bakery which doesn’t use too much shortening and lets the pastry get soggy as it cools. (And, you know how T. is about pastry, She Who Eats The Middles Out Of Pies And Leaves The Crust.)

Our Sausage Inna Bun might have been at home hawked on the fictional streets of Ankh-Morpork, but unlike C.M.O.T. Dibbler’s, you have our solemn promise that ours is actually edible…

Sausage Inna Bun

  • 12 hot dogs – we used Linkettes
  • 2 C. almond flour.
  • 1 C vital wheat gluten
  • 1/4 c. plain yogurt
  • 1/4 c. creamed cheese or 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1/4 c. flax or linseeds, mortar and pestle crushed
  • 2 Tbsp. dried thyme, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp. onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • scant freshly ground pepper
  • OPTIONAL: 3/4 c. shredded cheese you have sitting around

In your mortar and pestle bowl, place your salt, your pepper, thyme, onion powder and flax seeds. Grind until the thyme is a fine green powder, and add to your medium sized bowl. Combine your additional dry ingredients, including your vital wheat gluten. Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients, and add your wet. This is gonig to be a sticky and thick dough, but don’t despair. If you feel you absolutely need to, you may add two tablespoons of milk, but patience might be a better option. Really: it’s going to be thick, but once you combine your ingredients, it will come together in a ball.

Low-Carb Pigs in a Blanket

And for me, leaving it alone is the hardest part! However, you can Preheat the oven to about 350°F/175°C, and prep your filling at this point. (We didn’t have to do anything to our hot dogs, as they’re vegetarian, and regular hot dogs from a package don’t have to be cooked either. If you use anything else like an actual sausage or whatnot, pay attention to the cooking instructions, s’il vous plait!) We sliced twelve pieces of cheese to go into our “buns” and prepped the baking sheet with non-stick parchment paper (which is not the same thing as baker’s paper or greaseproof paper!).

After 30 minutes – or longer, it won’t hurt – place your dough ball between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out your dough until it is 1/4″ thick. Using a pizza slicer, we cut our dough into 12 rectangles, added a hot dog and a piece of cheese, and then just rolled them up, making sure to seal them as well as possible. You’ll need to bake these for 20 minutes, or until they appear golden brown and delicious.

While we used dairy products, this is easy enough to make this vegan – Daiya and Tofutti make a reasonable tofu creamed cheese, and Daiya even has some chive or garlic flavored, to spice thigns up. Since there aren’t eggs, you don’t even have to worry about a flax-water ration – you could substitute any nut or seed, be it pepitas or pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds or poppy.

There was some small misadventure in our bakery *cough* and we ended up with only eleven of these for the oven, but even if you run out of dough, these turn out beautifully. The hot dough will seem like it’s a little underdone, but it isn’t. As it cools, it sort of finds its shape. The thyme is key to flavoring this dish – delicate and adding an unexpected tang that is reminiscent of the beer batter. Well hydrated, the dough is tender and rich – and when it’s cooled enough for you to eat it without scalding your mouth, it sets up nicely. D. fortunately took a picture which lets you see the crumb – not exactly flaky pastry layers, but rich and tasty looking.

T’s next project is to adapt this pastry for sweetness. One of the things we noticed about pastry in Europe is that it’s not all that sweet – sometimes the filling is a bit sweet, but it’s mostly rich. We think we can find a happy medium between not-at-all-sweet and ridiculously-sugary. We’re imagining creating a vanilla-bean speckled dough, rich and fragrant, slicing a banana in half and then again horizontally so we’ve got just a little piece, grating a fine shower of dark chocolate atop it, settling it into its doughy bed and sprinkling the top dough casing with a tiny bit of granulated sweetness… Or, maybe a sweetly spiced dough, filled mostly with chopped cinnamon apple and a combination of dried and fresh cranberry filling… or chopped walnuts and maple syrup, dusted with just the tiniest bit of anise, or a fresh and zingy citrus-zested dough, with a gingery pear filling…

Well, we’ll let you know how it goes.



Chilly Changes

Skyway Drive 127

This morning, the frost on the deck has stayed… well into afternoon. Freezes and a few snow flurries this past week have been a surprising change from the previous weekend, when errands could still be done on one’s shirtsleeves (if done briskly, anyway). And now, the change of season has brought with it both fewer stresses, and additional ones. 2014 is suddenly bearing down on us, and the tentative thoughts we’d had about changes in the new year will soon be… more than thoughts. D. will be lecturing for an online course for a university this year, and T. has agreed to joining a vision board for a camping and retreat organization. Both D. and T. are taking on this additional jobs against their better judgment, and there will be many adjustments in the new year – and possibly a lot of whining as well. Nevertheless, one always has to try out opportunity like a coat still bearing its tags. Maybe something is meant to fit…

2013 Benicia 046

Meanwhile, we’ve begun to amble about the countryside a bit, in search of the unusual, as we gather items for the festive season. At a diner on the 680 industrial corridor outside of Benicia netted us a yummy breakfast at Rosie’s Cafe, and the chance to watch trains – right up close. That was probably the last weekend we could reasonably sit outside in the thin autumn sunshine, but it was well worth it to chow down on zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes and onions stuffed into an omelette and a perfectly toasted English muffin. Cheap and entertaining – can’t beat that.

Our diner luck held, the following weekend, and we were excited to discover a tiny cafe tucked into the edge of a shopping plaza in Pleasant Hill that has regular diner options and vegan ones as well. Real diners – places where requesting a half-caf mocha latte with sprinkles will get you nothing but regular refills of strong black coffee and a bowl of those little vats of cream – are traditionally completely impatient with the high maintenance requirements of foodies. They’re usually cheek-by-jowl with irascible old people, shifty-looking loners, families full of sticky children, and cackling dames gossiping over their tea. Plaza Cafe has all this — plus scrambled tofu among its breakfast offerings, and huge portions – tell the server you won’t need the hash browns or you’ll never finish. A cash-only cafe, full of “regulars,” Little League families, and surprised newbies like us, who just happened to wander in, this place is right in the middle of everything, yet off the beaten path. Those in the area will find it worthwhile to check it out.

A brisk, sunny day, Thanksgiving was a gift of family, new friends, and a plethora of great tastes. Our meal consisted of garlicky roasts and lentil loaf with a surprising bbq sauce, a savory barley risotto, rich mashed sweet potatoes, studded with bits of fried apple and onion, an amazing vegan kugel-style mac-n-cheese, the regular mashed potatoes, green beans with slivered almonds, salad greens with Honeycrisp apples and bright bursts of pomegranate arils, and silky mashed… cauliflower. Which we’re still not sure we believe contained no potato whatsoever. One of the nicest additions to the meal, aside from numerous pies, was T’s resurrecting her vegan cheesecake. Once upon a time, this was the go-to recipe, lemon cheesecake. Since then, it has had a few variations — this year, cranberry apple. Since the last time we blogged this particular recipe was in 2008, we’ll go ahead and repost:

Basic Vegan Cheesecake

  • 1 14 oz pkg. firm silken tofu
  • 1 8 oz. pkg “Cream Cheese” Tofutti, Daiya or, substitute regular creamed cheese if you’d like
  • 2/3 c. sweetener – we used erythritol
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch + ice water

Skyway Drive 123

Though a graham cracker crust is traditional, a more flavorful — and less apt to go soggy — alternative is a gingersnap crust. You can make it in the same way — whiz up ten or fifteen dry gingersnaps in your food processor (or, ginger nuts, as they’re also called) and add a tablespoon of butter or margarine to create a crumb the texture of damp sand, and then pack it with your fingertips into the bottom of a spring form pan. Pre-baking the crust is unnecessary.

~ Preheat Oven 350°F ~

Place silken tofu, cream cheese in bowl, and, using an immersion blender or beater, blend until smooth. Add your flavoring. If you’re making a lemon cheesecake base, 1/4 c. of lemon juice at this stage will give you a perfect tang.

In a smaller separate bowl, combine 2 tbsp ice water, your extract and cornstarch with a whisk. Pour mixture into tofu blend and beat until VERY smooth. Pour lemon filling into gingersnap crust, and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to cool for two hours, or for very best firmness, REFRIGERATE OVERNIGHT. We left ours in the oven and just went to bed, and it refrained from cracking in this way, but cooling SLOWLY.

Vegan Cranberry Cheesecake 3

We topped this lovely pie with cranberry applesauce. This may seem a strange choice, but adding apples to cranberry sauce sweetened and took the edge from the fresh cranberries, allowing us to use less sweetener. Also, the pectin from the peels brought the sauce a really smooth mouth feel, complimenting the creaminess of the tofu. This cheesecake with a citrus sauce, chocolate ganache, or a bright berry coulee would also have worked beautifully.

Vegan Cranberry Cheesecake 2

Our next test kitchen project upstairs is attempting to make sourdough rye bread. Rye flour contains little or no gluten, which means that it’s so far lying sullenly in the big silver bowl, staring at us… and yet, the commercial bakeries at Raley’s and Nob Hill bring forth perfectly light, chewy, sour loaves with thick, crisp crusts, on a weekly basis. Their secret has to be, in part, the baking vessels, which must be cast iron, to make that lovely crust, and we have a great pair of cast iron skillets which together will create a Dutch oven. But, only time will tell what else goes into the mix to make a great rye sourdough. Stay tuned!