There's times that I want to use mushrooms in something, and I'm nervous about them exuding too much liquid, so I avoid using it, unless I do something to them before I cook. I find that roasting in the oven just does the trick without making me stand there over the stove, and baby them. If I put whole mushrooms on the stove, I need a fair bit of fat to get them going, and once I do get them going, they leech out way more water than can be evaporated at any reasonable amount of time.

In the oven, however, I find that when spread out well on a baking sheet, the water evaporates faster than it can form (and puddle around the mushrooms). I don't have to do anything at all to them; just clean them in cold water (no, it won't waterlog them) and then throw them onto a baking sheet, and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, at 350F. Once they're cooked, there'll be a pool of mushroomy liquid in the bottom, and the mushrooms will be sufficiently dried out and cooked to use in pretty much anything I want to use them in. The liquid can be used as a mushroom stock, or to flavour various things into which you want to impart a meaty, earthy flavour.



Feel the power move through u: The power of the sun; a power, an energy, a force guided 2 bring the world in2 balance.

We r the power, & w this power - everything is possible. Let's find the ways 2 make less violence happen - so we can end starvation, stop global warming, halt poverty, put down dictatorships... We have much 2 do.

We have an eternal intelligence, molded by electrons, from the strength of solar storms that have traveled through the Universe, in2 the uterus, & out in2 the world: We, & all life, come in2 being from the same molecular source.

But we r the power of a brave consciousness - we seek freedom & peace 4 all of our fellow beings. This is our true endeavor.

We r sacred beings, we r respectful towards all life.

We r a glowing, burning, yearning power.

The sun, the Universe, the uterus, the Earth - our journey in2 mindfulness, & love.

Food is power. Eat the power. Feel the power. Food is love!



Being respectful & kind towards every source of life: Ourselves, our fellow beings, the Earth, the air, the water, the Universe, our journey b4 Earth life began, & our journey thereafter - Is the sweet angel song of our humanity. So in our daily meanderings, let us will in2 our mindful reveries: A pure generous goodness. I close my eyes, I visualize my feet, & see my body as an active volcano - Powerful fires, burning liquid energy.

We must change the way we & others perceive the world around us - Our inner-volcano burns w LIQUID LOVE. I visualize my feet again: Touching the Earth, the volcanoes bedrock, where our shared power collects truth & love from ancient sources deeper wi the Earth's core, summon these sources in2 our being: Feel them brewing, swirling, shifting, bringing 2 life a collective molecular power: LIQUID LOVE - the energy 2 create a concentrated force - a declaration 4 human-global equality. Our feet r deeply plugged in2 the core, extracting LIQUID LOVE: Up, up, up thru the body in2 our minds eye - exploding in words, deeds, movements. LIQUID LOVE is our companion now, vicariously spilling forth un2 our fellow earthlings.

Circumstances of all sorts, work 2 suppress the gathered sourcing of our LIQUID LOVE: The core reason 4 humanities being. Pay no mind 2 these affairs. Close ur eyes, project the destiny, it is right under our feet! Envision the power, pull it forth & amass the LIQUID LOVE.

Do not despair, or digress due 2 "our" media folk spouting forth life's impossible misery & inequities. No, no: Pull forth LIQUID LOVE, summon it up in2 ur being - let it dance within - we r its power: Reach deep down in2 the our common molecular core, let the fire burn! It is well known, that "our" government/political-dictator folks disregard most of "our" fellow beings. We exist in dire & unthinkable situations: Yet, the despots desire the small power, & seek out a type of greed that is both foisted & accepted by them & 4 them. Yes, they accept & know the heavy toll & agony that is hoisted upon the billions of lives that their fellow beings endure. But the endless suffering & torment of the billions, deliver the small power of imperialism 2 a tiny small-minded group of "our" fellow beings; and these folks relentlessly create a mass media distraction 2 maintain their imperial power.

Do not be distracted, do not wander: Feel the power! Summon forth our reason 4 being: LIQUID LOVE!

And as often heard in "our" many Houses of Worship: "Love thy neighbor as thyself!"

Indeed we must!


"Love it here!!!" Ain't nothin' more 2 say!!!

Updated 3rd Yelp Review- 10/19/2011

Here I must say again... I seriously LOVE this place. Since the last times I visited I wasn't a vegetarian, but I am now and love this just the same. The ambiance is great.

Top 3 favorites: curried steamed broccoli, Korean tofu cutlets, and peanut soba noodles.. when I say you need to have these, I mean YOU NEED TO HAVE THESE. We always go for 3 for $18 and get 6. We're overachievers, we are. Hostess/waitress has always been great to us, it's nice to see the same face there and she remembered us too! How exciting for us!

I would not suggest the meatballs, not my taste. But the three up there ^^ NEED TO BE TRIED.. Just saying :) I make my boyfriend drive us to NYC just for this place and I will do it again soon. Love it here!!!

Listed in: local veg food.

2nd Yelp Review: 3/27/2011

A second time around and it was delicious.
This place is so tiny and "hipster." Even though it's tiny and there isn't a lot of room from the table next to you, it's such a nice place. The hostess/waitress is so sweet and very helpful. She is usually the only person sitting and waiting on people, from the 2 times I've been there anyways.

We ended up getting the tapas again (6 total). We got 2 of the same things as last time, the curried broccoli and the soba noodles = AMAZING! I love broccoli so anything with broccoli, I'm all for it. We also got the Korean seitan, southwestern tofu puffs, cilantro pesto hummus, and Greek roasted cauliflower. Some of them were only there for the daily specials (tofu puffs, hummus, and cauliflower). I loved the Korean seitan!!! It was amazinggggggly good. It was so tasty, I was sad when we didn't have any left. I love the tapas idea because we got to try so many things at once.

I also got the Sky soda, Cherry Vanilla- YUM.

The only downfall to this place is the size, it's just tiny so when you get 6 plates, the table can be very small with 3 drinks on the table. BUT try it! I love this place even more the second time.

First Yelp Review: 12/6/2010

This place is really small but delicious. I am a meat eater myself but my boyfriend is a vegan and this was good for both of us.

We both ordered the 3 for $18 tapas and got 6 different things.. it was a ton of food. He also got a small salad (which are not small at all but tasty). I loved the broccoli! Def my favorite thing out of it all. I wouldn't recommend the beans and rice but everything else was really great. Mamas soy meatballs. Noodles. Roasted olive he loved them.

They have a student discount which is awesome!

Fixing Mistakes, continued

Today, we'll be talking about a few tweaks that you can make to a dish, to ensure that it comes out tasting perfectly each time. There are those times when you've spent a long time following a recipe to the letter (from a cook that you trust), and the final result seems a little bland, or lacking in brightness, or missing a little something or other. There are things that can be done to round out sharp edges, add sharp edges, or generally tweak your dish to make it work out wonderfully.

Dish seems a little too heavy, even though it's not swimming in fat.
There are times when you'll follow a recipe that seems relatively light, but for whatever reason, the major thing is that you feel is heaviness. This has happened especially in cases of soups, but also in fresh dishes. There was this one salad I made, with a peanut dressing. Perfectly delectable on screen, lovely in theory, but a little plodding and heavy on the tongue. I wanted to eat it, because it was loaded with all manner of good things (grated carrot, grated cabbage, shredded beets, granny smith apples, walnuts, peanut dressing), and lots of fresh herbs (cilantro, scallion, ginger, etc). It had acid in the dressing, so I didn't think that it needed more, but it was definitely lacking something intangible.
I started by adding in the zest of a lime. That started its work. Then, just before eating it, I squeezed on the lime juice, even though the salad already had a bit of acid in. For some reason, that last-minute addition of the fresh lime juice (and I know for a fact that lemon juice/zest will do the same thing) just brightened things up immensely.

You've used tomato from the tin, and the whole thing tastes of tinned tomato.
I've done this more times than I can count, and each time it happens, I swear that I'll never use tinned tomatoes again, and that I'll only use tomatoes when they're in season, and what an idiot I am for trusting something from the bargains section of the dollar store, etc etc. Then I'll see a large #10 tin of tomatoes at the store for like $2, and I'll get tempted, and promptly forget the problem in the first place.
For whatever reason, I've found that using a few drops of vanilla extract in the dish seems to offset that tinny taste. Tomatoes are about the only thing I'll ever buy tinned, so I'm not sure if that trick will work for other tinned veg. Overall, I find tinned veg to be pretty horrible in any case, so I steer clear. I'd sooner buy frozen, if I can help it.

The dish is excellent in every way, except it's too hot spicy (from chiles or pepper).
Traditionally, I'd say that a pinch or two of sugar should sort it out, however, the other day, I learned something new for savoury dishes. A wine reduction (preferably a white), with a bit of miso and nutritional yeast (if those flavours would complement your dish), a hint of coconut milk, and a generous bit of cornstarch seems to do the job just as well as sugar, and doesn't add any unwanted sweetness to your meal.
I made a rice and beans dish at home, which I'd managed to mangle with way too much chile. I could swear up and down that the stuff wasn't the extra hot ground red chiles I buy from the Indian store, but the wimpy ones that I get from the local grocery store (I don't even know why I'd have the wimpy one at home; that stuff is foul). It tasted great, except for the fiery burning that I felt up and down my body.
Instead of adding sugar (because 1. I hate sugar, and 2. I don't keep any in the house, and 3. If my beans tasted sweet, I would be committing acts of violence upon my own person), I decided to use up a bit of white wine I had lying around (there was some leftover Pinot Griggio I had from a party), and reduce it down, because I didn't want the rice & beans to be too watery. Once it reduced by about half, I whisked in a bit of white miso, and nutritional yeast, and turned off the heat. I whisked in a bit of cornstarch dissolved in coconut milk, and turned the heat back up. When the whole thing became like a thickish sauce, I folded it into the rice and beans, and all was right with the world. The heat was nice and controlled, while still perking up in the background, and I didn't have to resort to using sugar.


Cake mistakes!

Okay, so the buzzer went off, and u didn't hear it ring. Consequently, u 4got u even had anything in the oven. U talk on the phone, nibble here & there, read a bit of the Times..."HOLY SHEET! THE F**KEN CAKE! It 's burnt, it's burnt... Is it totally burnt? Yep, it's burnt!"

Well y'all know the saying: When the world hands u lemons: Make lemonade! (Or lemon pudding cake)!

Never give up on ur cake. Now, u may need to reconfigure how u r gonna present the cake. B/C surely, don't call me surely, it will not be a pretty round thing - like the one u had in ur mind. No, she sang that song. Yes she did! "Amazing Grace!" I can do anything! "I am women hear me roar!" "Yes I've paid the price, but look how much I've gained!" Not in my tookus though! Time to re-imagine! I am Julia Child! I am Jackie Kennedy! I am! I am! I am! I am Grandma Moses Big Tookus! No, Maybe not Grandma Moses, maybe just Big Tookus Moses! All right then: Next! Time to lose weight. Weight? Wait, no way! I am women hear me roar! Yes, persistence is transgender! And happily married homosexuals! And Muslim drag queens! Betty Davis? What a dump! No, no, no Ms. Thing: I am not Humpty Dumpty! And, and, and it's not over, it's not over... No, no, it's not over till... Time 2 re-create!

Let this burnt, but not totally burnt through cake, cool down some. Of course I am coming from the vegan point of fixin food. And by the by, this applies to a cake that just won't harden up as well. No matter how many times u stick that toothpick through, it comes out wet, wet, wet... U have measured wrong, too much liquid, not enuf dry... 4got some leavening...

Relax ladies! The solution applies 2 both botched scenarios.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Place into a food processor: 1 to 1 & 1/2 lbs of mashed up hard tofu; a dry sweetener, 1/2 to 1 cup; extracts of desire, 1 tablespoon; nutmeg, a few pinches; Earth Balance, bout 3/4 cup; 2 tablespoons of tahini; 3 tablespoons of maple syrup; 1 tablespoon vinegar; starch like arrowroot or corn, 1/3 cup; 1 tea of agar- agar; soy, almond or coconut milk..., 2 cups. Start processor, let it spin till creamy, creamy, creamy. During the spin, place 2 cups of same flour w 2 teaspoons of baking soda in fine strainer held over a bowl, shake into bowl till silky & fine, remove strainer; then w a wire whisk - mix, mix, mix. Break a part burnt cake into small bites or cut into squares, then place in dry bowl. If the problem is that the cake is too wet, u will still have cakey parts on the outside, place cake in separate bowl, mash up, break a part... (w wet version, use only 3/4 - 1 cup milk).

Pour the liquids from processor into bowl w dry ingredients, w a wire whisk, mix till totally incorporated. Then take the "Cake Mistake" and mix it right in to the batter; then pour batter into a ceramic bowl, pie dish, square...Bake in the 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes - till nicely browned. The "Cake Mistake" should be a touch shaky. Let sit a bit, then place in freezer till hardened & chilled through.

All done! Add ice cream; fruit chutneys; warmed or chilled: syrup reductions, glazes, chocolate, vanilla, lavender... sauces, on & on...

It ain't over till u say it 's over!!!! I will climb Mt. Sinai, sit my big tookus down, and watch the sun rise and set, and I will eat my custard cake w a friend. We'll talk about Infinite Jest & cake possibilities. I'll smile like Moms Mabley. I will, I will, I will... I will eat my success w my friend in his finest dress. She'll have pretty napkins too!

Fixing as you go along.

There are times, while cooking, when you realise that everything hasn't quite turned out like you'd expected. You thought you could eyeball the recipe (more or less), and did so. All of a sudden, the ratios are all off, your tongue and brain are both berating your eyes for missing the mark, and it looks like everything is about to go belly-up. These moments can be frustrating and disheartening, especially to a new cook. The trick is to not panic. Or realistically, to panic, but recover quickly.
There's a couple of things you can do before you start cooking to avoid disasters in the first place. There are also things that cannot be salvaged, and should not be salvaged. If you've burned your spices to an absolute crisp, just toss them out, and start over. Better to lose a few cents in off spies than to go through with the whole thing and end up with a horrible tasting disaster that now cost you a lot of time and effort. If your oil smells rancid, or when you start up your skillet, you smell something rancid, throw out that fat, and start over. Clean the pan thoroughly, and try again.
Rancid oil cannot be covered up, no matter how much you'd like to think so. I was once using a cast iron skillet that I hadn't touched in a while. I also foolishly left a small pool of oil on it for too long. Instead of doing the sensible thing and cleaning it off first, I made up a batch of dosa. A rancid smelling batch of horrible dosa. A rancidness that just did not fade, no matter how many changes of oil I'd put in. Once I gave the skillet a good scrubbing, all was well. But then, there was a batch of 15 dosa that had to go in the bin, because I'd been too foolish to stop while I was ahead, and just start over.
This goes double for burnt spices. I'd started off a lemon rice, and let the mustard seeds go too long. They weren't just popped, they were little blackened bullets of charred mess. I bull-headedly kept going, and burnt the hell out of the cumin seeds and the urad daal too. Y'see, when the pan is too hot for the one spice, it follows that adding more spices will mean that you have even more burning, and not less. I don't know /where/ my head was. In any case, I managed to thoroughly burn the seven hells out of the spices. I kept going.
Bad move.
The final dish tasted absolutely inedible and awful. It wasn't worth salvaging. It couldn't be salvaged. If I'd had any sense, I'd have stopped the instant that I saw the oil smoking too much. If I'd had less sense, I'd have stopped when I realised that the mustard seeds went from just a little heavily browned (which is fine) to outright black char. I could have pitched the spices, and been OK with a fresh pot of oil and a bit more spices. Sometimes, it's important to know when to stop, so that you can save yourself much more pain down the road.
Or, there was the one time I'd made a walnut date crust. It seemed awfully fatty when I was putting it into the pie pan. I didn't listen to my instincts, and stop. I just kept going. In went carefully layered fruits, arranged in concentric circles, with a bit of sweetener in between. The whole thing was a disaster and a half. I should have realised that when the recipe says soaked DATES, that date puree will not do. When the crust felt too fatty, I should have stopped, re-calibrated things, and kept going.
Long story short, before you take any of these tips on how to save your almost disasters, please understand that I'm not condoning you keep chugging along when things have gone to hell and back. Know when to stop. It'll save you a lot of tears.
But all that aside, there are times when things aren't going quite according to plan, when you can stop yourself, tweak a bit here and there, and move forward. It'll work out just fine in the end.
Your hummus is way too thin, and you're out of chickpeas.
The prevention for this is to set aside about a small handful of chickpeas, while you make the hummus. If your hummus is just fine, and perfectly thick, just blend them separately with a bit of your hummus, and mix the lot together. Far more frequently, however, you'll need to add more chickpeas, because you overshoot perfect and creamy. In fact, it's so common that I've powered through huge amounts of tahini in doing so. That's the fix-it solution, by the by. Tahini. Lots of it.
Suppose you're making hummus, and your processor is merrily chugging along. It's taking too long for your liking, so you splash in a bit more fat or water to smooth things along. The processor kicks up speed, and demolishes the stuff in it. You open the lid, and the hummus isn't thick and creamy but droopy and runny. You promised to bring hummus! If you don't bring hummus, they'll take away your vegan card! (It's true. By the by, if anyone wants to know what to get your favourite vegan blogger with a sense of humour about his own veganism, get him that t-shirt. It's wicked cute.)
Start, bit by bit, adding more hummus, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, or any other toasted nuts you like. It'll add a richness and creaminess that will make your hummus taste far superior to other hummus that folk have eaten. It thickens up quite beautifully If you want to avoid over-adding water, there is another trick you can use to make the processor cream the chickpeas easier, and not have to add too much water.
Cheat and use a little bit of white beans in your mix. For every 2 cups of chickpeas that you soak overnight, soak 1/2 cup of white beans in a separate container. (Or, do what I do and soak the full 2 cups of white beans, and follow up the hummus making with rosemary & white bean dip). Essentially, you're looking for a 4:1 ratio of chickpeas to white beans. For whatever reason, the white beans seem to cream up much easier than the chickpeas. I don't know why. I discovered it by accident, when I made a batch of hummus after making a batch of white bean dip (and not clearing out the last 2 inches or so of white beans left in the processor).

Your roux based sauce is too thin. 
The way to prevent this is to carefully measure out the fat and the flour, and make sure that the liquid is proportionate to the colour of your roux. Here's an easy way to remember how to work your roux: 1 TB of fat and 1 TB of flour will thicken up 1/2 cup of liquid when the roux isn't too dark. This means that you'll need to actually measure out a level tablespoon of fat and a level tablespoon of flour, so that you've got the proper thickening going down. The reason that I mention the darkness of the roux is because the darker roux don't tend to thicken as well as the lighter ones. This is why it's best to work best with medium low heat, and gradually get to the colour you want, so that you don't end up overshooting the mark, and get something that doesn't thicken correctly.
Suppose that you did indeed overshoot the mark, and your gravy/cream sauce/sauce is too thin. Don't use a slurry of flour and water. It'll require that you cook the thing for much longer to work out the raw flour taste. Don't use a flour/fat mixture that you whisk in. Just make more roux. It'll be fine. Get out a separate little pot, throw in a bit more fat, and a bit more flour, whisk for a couple of minutes to cook out the raw flour taste, and whisk in the too-thin sauce, and pour the mixture back into the thin sauce. Bring it to the boil, and you're set.
If you've run out of flour, whisk a bit of cornstarch with some water (about 1 TB of water with 1/2 TB of cornstarch), and pour that slurry into the thin sauce. The reason that cornstarch will work well is because cornstarch comes up to cooked stage much more quickly than flour.

Your rice isn't cooked to done-ness (while some of the grains are). 
This happens from time to time, when the water to rice ratio is off. It's happened more times than I care to remember. What I tend to do is add a bit more water, put it into a pyrex dish, and microwave it (covered) for about 10 minutes. That's usually enough to get the last few stubborn grains to finish cooking. If they're still not done, sprinkle in a bit more water, and let it go another 7 minutes in the microwave.
The reason that I suggest using the microwave as opposed to the stove or putting it back in the rice cooker, is because the microwave tends to cook rice on the drier side. The stoves and rice cookers tend to need more liquid, and tend to steer the whole mess towards a mushy mass. The microwave, on the other hand, tends towards a bit drier.

This is, of course, just a start. There are plenty of other things that can go wrong along the way, and I'm sure I'll mention more in future. I wanted to mention these simple things, so that you all can get more confident in your kitchen.


Random tip: Reuse pickle vinegar

I was reading the Kindle edition of a really old cookery book. Frankly, most of the recipes were too imprecise and/or filled with lard for me to make much use of them, so I casually flipped through for any non-recipe text in there. I've found that any cookery book, regardless of the main recipe content, will frequently have some darned good advice in it, so I read all the extra bits, like the intro and the rest.

In this one, there was a sort of after the recipes section that contained plenty of down-home, thrifty advice, like don't throw this or that away, and use it for other uses (like old underwear can be used for wash rags). Again, some of the advice was a bit odd, and I ignored it. Until I came to the bit about reusing pickle vinegar for salad dressing.

Huh. I'd never even considered it. I tried it out, and wouldn't you know it? It tasted far better than using just plain vinegar! And it would be fairly obvious, because the vinegar has all the flavourings that they use to spice up the pickles themselves. What a cool idea!

This isn't so much to share this tip that I wrote this blurb. I wrote it so that you go back to the cookery books in your house, and read all the bits that you'd usually flip past, while in the search of the recipes. They contain lots of good solid advice, and if you find a little treasure like that, share it with others. There's a certain cook who shall remained unnamed, who does meals in a certain time frame, and has TV shows, books, and product lines galore. I didn't much care for her style of cooking. However, while flipping through one of her books, she mentioned a trick for measuring spices. She said to put into your hand a tablespoon of sugar, so that you know roughly what a tablespoon of stuff looks like. Then, use the inside of your palm to measure spices. This way, you're not fiddling about with measuring spoons forever, while trying to crank out dinner in a hurry.

Mind you, for a restaurant, that wouldn't work, because our food has to be perfect, and consistent. People get upset when you change a particular recipe. But for home, it's ideal! It means that you can focus on understanding how the whole dish comes together than trying to make something perfectly the same every time, and you can get things moving quickly.

I would not even have picked up the book had I not been at an in-law's house, where they had all her books. I had some idle time, so I read the intro to a couple of them, and picked up a few handy hints along the way. Those parts of books are written to be read. Please go dust off a book whose intro you haven't read, and give it a browse. You might be surprised (pleasantly) to find what new things you've learned!


"Can you make a pasta dish?" "What if there's gluten free folk?"

Whenever someone calls for catering, my (and bossman's) first question tends to be "Are there any people who keep gluten free?" For some, it's the last question they'll ask. For us, it's the first. I tend to want to know early on, because if there's even one person who's gluten free, I'll try to steer the customer to get the entire menu gluten free. Why? Because then there are no awkward questions. There is no room for error, or mistakes. It's just all safe for everyone to eat, and that's the end of that. It's the same reason I err on the side of the strictest Kosher standards, because I want everyone to be comfortable. It's also why we stick to the strictest definition of vegan.

On that note, let's talk food, shall we? It's getting cold out (OK, so the past couple of days have been stunningly beautiful, but I'm anticipating cooler weather soon enough), and earthy, hearty flavours are perfect. The apples are coming in, and there's excellent local apple cider to be found at the grocery stores up here. This is the time to really take advantage of it.

Braised Red Cabbage & Fennel

2 TB canola oil
2 bulbs of fennel, sliced thin
2 lbs of red cabbage, sliced thin
1/4 cup sucanat
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup apple cider (or, 1/2 cup white wine and 1/2 cup apple cider)

In a large pot, heat the canola oil over high heat. Add the sliced fennel, and sautee until slightly browned. Add the sliced cabbage, and toss to combine with the fennel and oil for about three minutes. Add teh sucanat, salt, black pepper, cider vinegar, and apple juice. Let the liquids come to a full, rushing boil. Drop the heat down to medium, and let the cabbage braise until it's tender, and changes colour from light purple to a deep dark purple.


Beans, Beets, and Buddies

This year, during the fast, I decided that I'd set a goal for myself to reach out to at least one person whom I haven't kept in contact with (even though I swore up and down that I'd never forget them, and we'd stay in touch). In a way, for me, it's almost as if I were doing wrong by them by not keeping up my side of the acquaintanceship. Mind you, things like facebook and twitter give an illusion of keeping in contact, but in reality, there are many folk with whom I have not had a good conversation, even though I deeply enjoy their company, and love talking to them. I felt guilty, and pledged to do something about it.

So I did. I reached out, and sent an email to a couple of people, as of Wednesday of last week. Today, when I got back to work, my inbox was filled with love from the people whom I'd lost contact with. If I am strictly honest with myself, I will likely end up losing touch with those same people again, but for now, our two souls have connected, and a small spark of kindness has been released into the world. There's just something about writing a letter to someone which (to me) is a lot more personal and meaningful than pressing a "like" button on something. I don't expect all my correspondences with people to always be deep and meaningful, but when they are, I enjoy them.

I'm not sure why I felt the need to share that, but I hope you didn't mind my little diversion into personal life, before I get to the beans of the matter (I don't think I'd enjoy getting to the meat of any matter; beans are quite lovely, thank you).

Beans and beets. Specifically, black beans and beets. Why had I never considered this before? Mind you, I'm personally not a huge fan of beets on their own. They're kind of challenging. The colour bleeds all over everything, they make a right mess of your counter tops, and if you stain your clothes, that stain isn't coming out (PS how /do/ you clean off beets stains from a white shirt without harsh chemicals?) any time soon. Black beans, on their own, are tasty ,but a little monochromatic when you're talking textures (and when aren't you talking textures, right?). Especially when combined with brown rice, the black beans feel a little alone.

This is why so many black bean recipes are loaded with onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Anything to get into that texture, and break it up a little. However, beets, in my opinion, are a lovely choice. Black beans sometimes depress me, because that beautiful black colour doesn't last. It seems to bleed out into the water (especially if you soak your beans before cooking), and the final beans are a dark brown, instead of black. With beets, it's the opposite problem. The vivid garnet and purple colours leech into the cooking water, and stain /everything/ that same colour, and the final 'do looks just awful.

However, when black beans and beets are combined, something magical happens: the two colours reinforce the other! The beans no longer bleach out, and the beets don't stain everything that awful medicine looking colour. Victory! This particular recipe is very simple, because I'm looking to make it for the beans and rice special (for which I may not use garlic, onion, soy, gluten, sugar, or black pepper).

6 cups of black turtle beans
3 large beets, diced
16 cups water
1 tsp thyme, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Salt, to taste

OPTIONAL: 1/2 cup of red wine

Simmer the beets and the beans together, until the beans are tender. If you chop the beets into 1 inch cubes, they'll cook at roughly the same amount of time as the beans. Add the thyme, nutmeg, wine (if you're using it), and salt. Let the beets and beans simmer together for another 10 minutes, or until the wine's alcohol-y smell has evaporated off. Serve with crusty brown bread, or brown rice.

With earthy flavours, like beets and black beans, I find that a little thyme and nutmeg complement each other beautifully. Please be careful with thyme. You can very easily overpower the dish if you're not careful. The wine helps round out the flavours, and gives just a touch of sweetness, while deepening the earthy flavours. If you don't drink wine, feel free to use about the same amount of apple juice or cranberry juice for the same results.Beets and mild sweet flavours go together very nicely.

Also, I've had about a thousand and one dishes that feature black beans and cumin and coriander. I wanted something completely different from stuff I've had before, so that I can challenge myself to think of different ways to use familiar ingredients.

Of course, feel free to augment the stew with shredded red cabbage, sliced carrot, tomatoes, or diced turnips.


Tofu Saag Paneer

There's this ubiquitous dish on most Indian restaurants, called saag paneer. Often times, it's hard little cubes of what feels like rubber, covered in a green goo of some kind, with about an inch and change of fat floating on top. And yet, people eat it with great relish. I don't get it.

Saag paneer, when made right, is little cubes of Farmer's cheese, deep fried, and served in a spiced spinach puree. It can be quite lovely, if you were to do things properly, but when it comes to mass quantities, the dish suffers. Fortunately for me, and the patrons of the restaurant, it improves when made vegan, and healthy. Rather than using tender, soft spinach, which should really be eaten raw, I use a combination of tender and hardy greens, like spinach, collard greens, and kale. That way, when I puree the greens together, I don't let a loose sauce as much as I get a textural wonderland. Rather than using farmer's cheese, I use little cubes of tofu, tossed in a bit of oil, and baked until they puff up into little balls. They're very cute to look at on the tray.

This way, I'm not deep frying anything, while still getting the taste and texture of deep fried tofu. And, rather than cooking down everything until it's homogenised, I cook things separately, so that they retain their texture and taste. The dish is transformed to something totally tasty, and much easier to eat with roti. That slumpy mass you get at restaurants should no longer be tolerated. Fight back!

10 oz (roughly 1 bunch) of spinach, washed WELL, and plunged into boiling water for 10 seconds.
8 - 12 oz kale, roughly chopped, and plunged into boiling water for 1 minute
8 - 12 oz collard greens, roughly chopped, and plunged into boiling water for 1 minute

Drain the water from the greens well. You don't need to squeeze them, but you can if you'd like. In a food processor, combine all the greens (in batches of 1 handful at a time), and pulse until they become chopped very finely. Set the greens aside in the fridge, so that they cool down.

2 lbs of tofu, cut into 1 cm cubes
2 tsp oil
1/4 tsp salt

Don't bother to press the tofu. Just chop it up into cubes, and toss it in the oil and salt. If you prefer, you can use a mister or a nonstick cooking spray. I prefer just using oil, because there isn't too terribly much of the stuff I'm using here. Either way, get fat and salt onto the tofu. Lay it out onto a baking sheet, lined with parchment. The parchment is important, because the tofu will want to stick. Leave plenty of room between the cubes of tofu, or else they'll go mushy instead of crispy.

1/2 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 cardamom pods
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
2 medium (tennish-ball sized) onions, sliced thinly (red works great, but use any onions you have)
3 - 12 cloves of garlic, minced
2-inch knob of ginger, grated
Pinch of cinnamon
Scrape of nutmeg
1 tsp of oil
salt, to taste

In a large, nonstick skillet, pour in your oil, fennel seeds, and cumin seeds. Let the lot heat over medium high heat, until you hear the seeds pop and crackle. Add the cardamom pods, cloves, and bay leaf. Sautee around until the fragrance becomes too delicious to stand anymore. Add the sliced onion, minced garlic, and ginger. Let the lot sautee over medium high heat, until the onions become lightly browned. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir everything for about 30 seconds. Add the chopped greens, and turn off the heat. Toss through to combine, making sure to thoroughly mix through the spices.

Add the cubed roasted tofu, and gently toss to combine. The tofu will become tough from the cooking, so no need to be that gentle! Just give it a toss. It'll be fine.

Now here comes the best part.


The dish isn't ready for you yet. Now, you must exercise self-control by walking away, and letting the whole mass sit around, undisturbed, for at least an hour. Why? Because you want the tofu's skin, which formed in the oven, to permeate with the liquid from the greens and the spices and onions and such. You want the spices to mellow out a bit. You want the whole lot of it to taste and smell fantastic, while still having a bit of cohesion. You want to make a batch of roti, to be perfectly honest, and I'm giving you the chance to do that, with the excuse of, "Dino said so, so it must be right." Either way, this works out best if you make this at the beginning of your dinner preparations, and then come back to it much later, after it's sat around a bit.

I won't tell anyone if you sneak a few healthy spoonfuls, for "quality control". I do the same thing.


Creamier Hummus

There's a couple of things that you can do to ensure that your hummus comes out ultra super creamy and tasty. You can increase the fat, increase the cooking time, or increase the liquid (to an extent). All of the techniques leave you with a different kind of hummus at the end, but regardless, they're all tasty.

First and foremost is the option of increasing the amount of fat you put in. This can mean more olive oil or tahini than the recipe calls for. There's a couple of considerations to this method. For one thing, the tahini is going to thicken the hummus. It'll give it a mild bitter edge if you're too generous with how much you put in. Mind you, your chickpeas can take a lot! They can probably take much more than you think that they can, and still be extremely tasty. I've gotten away with (for about 1 lb of chickpeas, soaked, boiled, and drained) up to a half cup of tahini, and had it all come out very well! Just bear in mind that tahini is (1) expensive, and (2) mildly bitter. If you're already adding in bitter things, like bell peppers or walnuts (both of which can bring out bitter flavours if you're not careful), you want to ease on up with the tahini, and bump up the oil instead.

Unfortunately, adding extra oil to the mix means that you'll end up with a slightly more runny hummus. Again, this is OK, as long as you've got enough chickpeas and tahini to balance out. If you do end up (mistakenly) adding too much oil, throw in a handful of almonds to thicken things up. It'll take a little longer to grind it down until the hummus is smooth, but it's OK. You'll get there.

Finally, you can add a bit more water. Like the oil, you're still working with ingredients that will give you a more runny product, so please be careful when you add water.

I mentioned cooking time for a very good reason. For the best hummus ever, use dried beans, that you soak overnight in cold water, then drain the next morning, rinse well, then boil the beans until they're tender. You want the beans to cook until they're all the way tender. Don't stop until everything is cooked through. The problem with tinned beans is that they aren't built to break down. Something about the masses of salt that they're packed in makes it difficult for the beans to grind down to a smooth paste. They'll grind if you give them a long time in the food processor, but they'll take an awfully long time. It's not pleasant at all to have chunks of chickpeas left in your hummus.

Yes, it takes a lot longer, but the payoff is well worth it. Please soak your beans in cold water, then boil them the next day. Why does't pressure cooking or quick soaking (wherein you soak the beans for 1 hour in boiling water, drain, then boil over the stove) work as well? The beans don't get as thoroughly hydrated in quick cooking methods as you would when you're being slow and deliberate. That extra time that you spend in the soaking and cooking process will give you thoroughly hydrated beans, that are cooked all the way through to the middle, perfectly. No problems with stubborn beans that won't grind down properly.

I'll also note here that if you want to increase the lemon flavour in your hummus, please consider using the zest of the lemon, along with the juice. If you add too much lemon juice, you'll end up with a hummus that's closer to a dressing, than a creamy dip. The zest of the lemon will increase the lemony taste without increasing (too much) the acidity of the whole mix.

At the end of the day, I'd rather you were eating any hummus at all, because it really is a tasty and healthy treat. So even if it means you buy the tinned chickpeas, or use peanut butter or almond butter in place of tahini because your local store ran out of tahini and won't be in stock until the next week (this actually happened once), or you end up making it runny because you're using a blender (which you shouldn't be doing, but how am I going to stop you from doing so?), or you don't have any mechanical grinding tools, so you sit there and pound with a pestle and mortar, or a potato masher. However you get the stuff into you, go ahead and do it. I'll probably still enjoy it immensely, with either bread, sliced cucumbers, carrot sticks, sliced apples, or my greedy face.

2 cups dry chickpeas, soaked overnight, rinsed, and boiled until tender
3 - 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tahini
2 lemon, juiced and zested
2 TB cumin seeds, lightly toasted and crushed or ground in a pestle and mortar
Salt, to taste
1 cup water, in reserve
1 bunch parsley
3 TB olive oil, for topping

When your chickpeas are cooked to perfection, drain them well, and rinse them off in cold running water to cool them off completely. Add the garlic to the food processor, and give the blade a spin to chop up the garlic. Add the chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Let the food processor run until all the ingredients are combined thoroughly. Add water, 1 TB at a time, until desired creaminess is achieved.

Top with ground cumin, chopped parsley, and olive oil. Serve with bread, sliced vegetables, or a big spoon. :)


Turmeric Cooking

Working with turmeric can be a bit of a challenge, because it really is a strong dye. You spill that stuff onto your counter, and you've got a pretty long-lasting horrible looking stain. If you do manage to spill some onto your white dress, apron, or otherwise, just rinse it lightly in soapy water, and dry it out in the sun. It may take one or two dryings to get it to completely bleach out to white again, but it'll get there eventually. Or, as my mother says, "You could use Oxyclean. That stuff cleans everything."

For the record, it was also my mother who mentioned that drying in the sun will clean turmeric stains.

But this isn't about how to stain with turmeric. It's about how to cook with it.

Turmeric likes fat. Its colour gets much stronger, and more intense when there is fat present. It goes from bright yellow, to a more burnished, brownish-reddish-orange that looks very tempting. When combined with some kind of alkaline food, it'll turn a more reddy-orange. However, for whatever reason, there are multiple recipes that call for turmeric to be added raw. Ew. It's got a very odd taste when it's raw. In fact, there's recipes that I've seen that call for large quantities of the stuff raw. Eeeeeeewww.

Please, if you're using it, just toast it in a tiny bit of fat. You need not drown your recipe in fat, but a little goes a long way to making the colour and flavour be so much more enjoyable. In fact, the next time you see tumeric in a recipe where there's also some fat, just say in your head "and toast it in fat".

Here's how it works.

Start with your hot pan or pot with fat in it. Add your whole spices (cumin, coriander, sesame, etc). When the seeds pop, turn off the heat, and add your turmeric. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir it all around. Then, add it to whatever it is you're cooking.

Mind you, I'm aware that there are South Indian recipes that call for boiling the turmeric with the veggies, or daal. This isn't necessarily wrong. I'm just right.


Peel a head of garlic FAST


How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds from SAVEUR.com on Vimeo.

Essentially, you take two stainless steel bowls of roughly equal size. Take a head of garlic. Smash it with the heel of your palm to break it apart into individual cloves. Dump the lot into a bowl. Cover the top with another bowl. Shake shake shake. I tried this at home with a couple of different things. Since the concept seemed to be tumbling garlic together, I tried this with a tupperware box. No dice. It seems like the round shape of the bowl keeps things moving. I tried this with a plastic salad bowl with lid. Still no dice. It needs to be /two/ bowls. I tried this with two plastic bowls. It was getting better, but I had a couple of cloves still tightly holding onto the skin.

Two stainless steel bowls, of comically large size later, and I had a head of perfectly peeled garlic. I think part of the peeling process is the smashing with the heel of your palm. I tried with just loose garlic cloves that were lying around, and they didn't work as well. The other part is agitating against the stainless steel bowl, which has a bit more grip than plastic or ceramic. It clings to the garlic, and not the skin. Also, with the cloves of garlic smashing around, and hitting each other, you've got a bit more abrasion going on than you would if it were one or two cloves of garlic.

Try it out, with two large stainless steel bowls, and you'll be happy that you did. Next step is to chop them. Or, to leave them whole. Or, to run them through a garlic press. I got one of these garlic presses a few months back, for a review copy, and have been impressed thus far. The cost seems to be fairly reasonable. The thing about it is that the OXO doesn't like unpeeled garlic. With this method, you can use the OXO, which does a fine job of getting the garlic into your cooking pot (rather than all over your counter, or stove, as the old style ones used to), and is easy to press without a lot of effort.

Frankly, I'm quite happy to use an entire head of garlic in my meals, but if you're not, there's a trick to storing peeled garlic. Just place an absorbent paper towel (lightly crumpled) in the bottom of a tupperware container that's just big enough to store the garlic cloves. Dump in the peeled garlic. Cover the lid tightly, and place it in your vegetable drawer of the fridge. It'll last a good few days, and won't get all wet and gross on you. Mind you, it is still best to use your peeled garlic immediately, but if you can't, you can buy yourself a couple of days of insurance.

If you do want to use the whole head, and don't want a SUPER strong garlic odour, just add it into your hot fat, at the beginning of cooking, rather than towards the end. Add it even before you add onions. The sharp bite will cook out, and the garlic will get more mellow. When you eat the final dish, it'll be garlicky without being overpoweringly garlicky.

Final note: do not let the garlic get more than a medium brown while you cook it in the hot fat. Burned garlic is bitter, and extremely unpleasant.