Monday, December 15, 2008

In Search of Sweet Potato Pie

I have fond memories of sweet potato pie from my college days. The ladies at the campus cafeteria downtown made an excellent sweet potato pie that I would treat myself to on dismal winter days. It was thick, rich and substantial. Not too sweet, but definitely not bland. Very satisfying. And way better than pumpkin pie.

Its been awhile since I've made sweet potato pie at home, so I decided to start with what seemed to be a tried and true recipe from All Recipes. Although I followed the basics of the recipe, I made the following modifications:
  • I used four small sweet potatoes instead of one large one. Using one sweet potato to me is like using a single clove of garlic--why bother?
  • I used 3/4 a stick of butter instead of a whole stick.
  • I subbed 1/2 of the white sugar with brown sugar.
  • I used soy milk instead of regular milk.
  • I used a store bought graham cracker crust. I love these and almost always prefer them to a "real" crust.
The resulting pie was tasty, but a bit too airy and mushy for my tastes. Even though I had enough filling for each slice of pie to seem substantial, it lacked the heft and weight I was after. I think next time I might try subbing sweetened condensed milk for regular milk. Any other suggestions for baking a killer sweet potato pie?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Herbed Cheese Biscuits

What's soup without homemade bread? So, after making the split pea soup, I decided to try Herbed Cheese Biscuits as described on Pinch My Salt. I followed the basic recipe, using a combination of parsley and basil for the dry herbs, and I added a chopped green onion. I used cheddar for the cheese and low-fat sour cream for the sour cream. As you can see, I cut the biscuits into triangles using a knife.

The recipe didn't take very long to make, and the dough was very easy to work with. The mustard powder and parsley gave the biscuits a pleasing color, and the texture was what you would want from a biscuit. Overall, I was a bit disappointed with them--I thought they were too bland and would have benefited from some garlic. My partner liked them better than I did, although also commented that the texture was good but the taste was missing something.

Next time, I think I'll stick with Rasa Malaysia's Cheddar Bay Biscuits.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Split Pea Soup

Inspired by Happy Herbivore's recipe as well as the cold weather, last week I made up a big pot of split pea soup. The recipe I followed is this:

  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1/3 white onion, chopped
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 8 cups water
  • 7 cubes veggie bouillion
  • 1 lb bag split green peas
  • 1 potato, cubed
  • 3 handfuls of baby carrots, cubed
I rinsed and sorted the peas and sauteed the onions, shallots and garlic before adding to the soup pot. Otherwise I just threw everything in the pot and simmered on low for about 1.5 hours. Once it was cooked I blended with a stick blender until the large chunks of potato and carrot had turned more into flecks (but the soup was not completely pureed.). It was very hearty and tasty and the leftovers have been delicious as well. This was also very inexpensive to make (the entire pot cost about $3.00 in new ingredients since I had the bouillion and most of the veggies on hand). Especially nice when served with fresh ground pepper and paprika sprinkled on top.

A Sign You Need to Organize Your Kitchen

I *just* realized we have a whisk attachment for our stick blender.

We've had said blender since I think *last* Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fried Eggs--Its Easier Than You Think!

Fried eggs were always a bit of a mystery to me. I'd start out with good intentions, but invariably break the yolk and end up with scrambled eggs. Or worse, I'd burn the whites.

Until I was clued in to this really simple method by Cook's Illustrated. The main things I was doing wrong? 1.) Not using a cover! and 2.) Feeling like I had to flip the egg.

Since we're on the topic of fried eggs, I highly recommend the also easy, fun and very delicious egg in a hole. The Pioneer Woman has a mouth-watering pictorial recipe here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chicago Craft Fair--DEPART-ment

DEPART-ment's December show opens tonight at the AV-aerie, 2000 w. fulton. Over 125 artists and craftspeople are participating this month, so its a terrific opportunity to see what's going on and to buy local, hand-made holiday gifts. Visit the DEPART-ment site for a full list of participating craftspeople.

The show is cash only and runs through Sunday.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Vegetarian Peanut Noodles--Sauce Photos

Here's a pictorial that shows how the peanut sauce in the vegetarian peanut noodles comes together.

Step one: Throw the ingredients in the pan.

Here's the sauce on top of the pasta once everything in the sauce was heated through and combined (although it looks unappetizing at this stage this is what the sauce looks like when its ready):
And lastly, the finished noodles.


Home Remedies--Eucalyptus Oil for Colds

After a week and a half battle with a cough, my partner was diagnosed today with pneumonia. Fortunately he's feeling better than he has been, and I haven't caught it from him (knock on wood). Yesterday I diffused a combination of eucalyptus and lemon essential oils into the air to help fight the infection.

Eucalyptus oil is believed to act as an expectorant and a decongestant, so it is particularly beneficial in treating coughs. It is reputed to help generate lung tissue and has been used as a traditional remedy for asthma, bronchitis, colds and other ailments. It is at once antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. Lemon oil is both refreshing and antiseptic.

Like other essential oils, eucalyptus oil and lemon oil can be applied in a variety of ways, including topical application to the skin if diluted in a carrier oil such as jojoba or sweet almond oil. I chose to diffuse the oil into the air so that it would benefit both of us as well as clean the air in our apartment. However, all three of our cats were staying at my mother's. Had the cats been home I most likely would have chosen a more direct form of application as essential oils which are safe to humans can be toxic to pets. Cats, especially, are sensitive to many components of essential oils. One book I highly recommend to learn more about essential oil safety and pets is Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals.

If you'd rather not subject your entire home to the aroma of eucalyptus, another way to benefit is to put a few drops of the oil in a bowl of steaming water. Cover your head with a towel, and lean over the bowl so that you are effectively in a tent with the water and inhale the steam for 5-10 minutes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Recipe Review--Post Punk Kitchen Chocolate Chip Cookies

I was drawn in by this recipe for chocolate chip cookies at the Post Punk Kitchen (PPK), and decided to give it a whirl.

I followed the recipe fairly closely--I used olive oil instead of canola because we didn't have canola, and soy milk instead of almond milk. I did not use tapioca flour, again because I didn't have it, although I read later that I could have probably substituted corn starch for it. I may have used slightly more chocolate chips than originally called for, as I was just finishing up a bag.

The cookies turned out pretty well, and looked remarkably like the ones on the PPK blog. The chewy texture was nice and even my partner, who does not like chocolate, enjoyed them. During the baking process, the greasiness of the dough was overwhelming--it was hard to escape just how much oil went into this recipe. If you're looking for a decent vegan chocolate chip recipe, I would recommend this one, but if you're a vegetarian or omnivore, I would recommend a recipe that uses butter and eggs instead. Halfway through the recipe I found myself asking why I was making these vegan cookies when I had butter and eggs in the fridge. Overall, it was nice to have some cookies on hand and the adventure served as a reminder that vegan isn't always better for vegetarians.

Monday, November 17, 2008

College Newspaper Collages

I worked at the student newspaper throughout college as both a writer and an editor, and have been saving a huge stack of papers from that time period. As part of my ongoing efforts to declutter, I decided to create some collages of some of the papers and get rid of most of the rest (I do have separate photocopies of some of my favorite articles, cartoons, etc.) The collages represent a variety of my favorite articles, headlines, ads, etc., and will hopefully be better appreciated than a stack of papers in the file cabinet.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Weeknight Cheater Recipe: Sweet Potato Casserole

I love a good sweet potato casserole. When else is a vegetable practically a dessert? Plus, I find that its just as delicious as a cold leftover as it is warm fresh out of the oven.

However, the thought of roasting sweet potatoes and spending lots of time on the topping makes them seem an unlikely candidate for a weeknight dinner. Until I decided to try a weeknight cheater version.

Instead of baking the sweet potatoes, I pierced each one a few times with a fork and microwaved until they were done (my microwave has a potato setting, if yours doesn't, you can try 2-3 minutes at a time). While the potatoes were cooling a bit, I preheated the oven and gathered my topping ingredients. I scooped each of the sweet potatoes out of its shell and mashed a bit with a fork before placing in the pie dish. Then, I topped with sweet corn flake cereal (Trader Joe's honey bunches of oats type) which I crushed with my hands and some pre-crushed baking walnuts. I zapped some butter in the microwave to melt it and stirred some brown sugar into the butter before drizzling over the top. Then I baked for 20 mins at 350. Pretty easy, and very worth the minimal effort.

*PS--isn't the spoon rest adorable? I got it from Texas Ceramics on Etsy (

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Weeknight Cheater Recipes

Since I plan on running quite a few of them, I thought I should say a word about what I'm calling "Weeknight Cheater Recipes." These are recipes that are about as healthy as what I'd make on a weekend, but involve a few cut corners. They don't involve all of the steps that I would perform in an ideal world, but they get a decent meal on the table when time is limited. Let me know what you think and if you have suggestions!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vegetarian Peanut Noodles

-2/3 cup peanut butter
-2 cloves garlic
-1/2 cup water
-2 tbsp sesame oil (can sub olive oil if needed)
-4 tbs soy sauce
-1 thumb ginger
-1/2 lime juice
-crushed red pepper
-black pepper
-pasta: 1 package udon noodles (10 oz) (can sub rice noodles or linguine)
-1 onion, chopped
-more garlic
-carrots, chopped, shredded or diced
-broccoli, chopped
-red bell pepper, chopped
-1 container extra firm tofu

Optional toppings: chopped peanuts, scallions, sesame seeds

Directions: Boil noodles as directed on package. While noodles are boiling, chop tofu into pieces of desired size and pan fry with olive oil until golden. Set tofu aside, add more oil to pan and sautee the remaining vegetables. Separately, mix peanut butter, chopped garlic, water, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, lime juice, crushed red pepper and black pepper in a sauce pan until heated through. Combine all ingredients. You can play around with the amount of sauce and vegetables to your taste.

Editors notes:
  • I'm not a tofu person, but I don't mind it at all when fried as above and broken into fairly small pieces. That way I view it as part of the sauce. If the tofu chunks are too big I just eat around them, and that defeats the purpose.
  • This recipe made fantastic leftovers, but I'd probably omit broccoli next time because the broccoli seems to take much longer to heat than the rest of the dish. And a cold bite of broccoli is no fun. Additional veggies can be added as desired.
  • If you don't use ginger frequently, you can keep some in your freezer for use in dishes like this.
  • We were out of lime so I used lemon with no ill effects.
  • Both the broccoli and peppers I used had been frozen and turned out fine. A nice way to save on chopping/prep time!
  • I used the same pan for the sauce, tofu and vegetables to minimize clean up time. As the tofu and vegetables finished I put them in my serving dish for tossing later with the pasta and sauce.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Banana Rum Bread Pudding

I started with Martha Stewart's recipe here. Below is the recipe I actually followed, my own modifications included:

-2 tbs butter
-1.5 cups soy milk
-3 eggs
-3/4 cup brown sugar (dark)
-1/2 tsp salt
-2 tsp vanilla
-2 tbs dark rum
-3 bananas sliced into approx. 1/4 inch thick rounds
-leftover/"stale" bread (we used both white and wheat, whatever needed to be used up).

Heat oven to 325. Fill baking pan with 1/2 inch of water (my ramekins were large so I needed to do this to two baking pans). Whisk together soy milk, eggs, 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, salt, vanilla and rum. Butter 4 six-ounce ramekins.

Sprinkle a bit of sugar into each ramekin. Put a single layer of banana slices in each ramekin. Put down a layer of bread. Pour half of the liquid mixture among the ramekins. Divide the remaining banana among the ramekins and sprinkle each with a bit of brown sugar. Top with remaining bread. Pour remaining liquid over ramekins. Press to soak bread. *I used more bread than the original recipe called for so I whipped up about 1/3 of the liquid recipe above extra, not measuring exactly but going by feel to make sure each ramekin was soaked enough. Top with a dab of butter and a sprinkle of sugar.

Cover ramekins loosely with foil, place in baking pans with water and bake for 30 minutes. Bake for another 30 mins. uncovered. Let cool.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gowumpki/Cabbage Roll Casserole

I've been craving Polish gowumpki/cabbage rolls, and I happened to have cabbage leftover from making cole slaw earlier in the week. I didn't think I'd have the energy on a weeknight to actually make cabbage rolls, so I was excited to find a recipe for gowumpki casserole here. The recipe I actually followed, including my modifications in italics, is below:

  • 1 head cabbage, chopped or shredded
  • 1 onion, chopped (I changed this to two onions)
  • (I added 3 cloves garlic)
  • 1 pound ground beef, browned (I subbed 4 vegetarian beer brats, crumbled, for the beef)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • grated cheese

Layer bottom of pan with 1/2 of the cabbage. (I sauteed the onion, garlic, and veggie sausage before constructing the casserole). Add filling of onion, ground beef (veggie sausage), salt, pepper, rice mixed together. Pour 1 c tomato sauce over all. Add another layer of cabbage. Pour remaining tomato sauce over top, and grated cheese, if desired. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees F. Serves 4 - 6.

I thought it could have used maybe 1/2 cup more rice. When I put it together I worried that there wasn't enough tomato sauce to keep it moist, so I covered the glass baking pan with some aluminum foil to keep the steam in, and it worked beautifully.

For the tomato sauce, I used up the tomatoes we had on the counter. I chopped them up and then blended with a stick blender until liquified. Then I simmered for about 10 minutes with some green peppers that had been chopped and stuck in the freezer for something like this, and added a bit of crushed red pepper, basil and oregano. Worked like a charm.

Overall, this was a fairly easy dish, and it was delicious and hearty. I was pleased to be able to use up some produce that might otherwise have gone to waste. Definitely would make this again!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Recipe Review--Spanish Slaw (Mary Ann Valdez, Allrecipes.Com)

Spanish Slaw recipe on

I was desperate for a good vegan cole slaw recipe, and this fit the bill. It was tricky to find one without mayonnaise, but I can't stand mayonnaise on hot summer days. This recipe works well either with cabbage chopped by hand or pre-shredded cole slaw mix. I omit the pimientos because I never have them on hand. The resulting slaw is tangy and flavorful without being too sweet. Its so yummy I've been making it once a week (it takes hardly any time at all and makes a terrific side dish). The cabbage is full of vitamins and fiber and there's very little fat or sugar so its a pretty healthy treat. Enjoy the recipe, and comment if you try it or have a slaw recipe you'd like to share!