Wednesday, April 29, 2009

ethiopian bbq lentils, minty kale, and celeriac remoulade over quinoa

This meal started with an impulsive purchase of celeriac, a root vegetable related to celery. I just finished reading "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan, which was fantastic, and have been working on reducing my processed food intake. 17,000 new foodlike substances are released every year and they're not doing us very much good. I admittedly get excited about some of the new vegan food items. However, I'm going to focus my excitement on vegetables, fruits, and grains that I haven't yet experienced. Although the new vegan marshmallow Dandies are incredible...

I scoured the internet for a tasty celeriac recipe and happened upon one. From there, I designed a few dishes I thought would complement it well. I was very satisfied with the individual dishes and how they interacted, so I recommend trying them out! We've been eating it for four days and we're not sick of it yet!

Ethiopian BBQ Lentils

2 c lentils
3 c water

1 c water
2 carrots (chopped)
1 c tomato sauce (I recommend Susan's homemade sauce, but work with what you've got)
1 T red wine vinegar (herbed recommended)
1 T olive oil
1 T berbere (mix yourself or purchase)
1 1/2 t tamarind concentrate (probably not necessary)
1 T molasses (sorghum)
1 T paprika
1/2 t salt

Clean and wash the lentils, picking out any pebbles or dirt. Toss the lentils and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Let it simmer until most of the water has boiled off, around 20 minutes.

Add another cup of water, the carrots, and the tomato sauce. Actually, you might as well add everything else at this point as well. I don't really have a recommended berbere recipe, but it's a crucial part of the dish. If you don't have a mix or all of the ingredients, add as many of them as you can! Cook for another 20 minutes or so until the water's gone and the lentils and carrots are well cooked. If the lentils are burnt and sticking to the pan, you've gone too far.

Minty Kale

We picked up some local Red Russian Kale at the co-op! I also picked some mint that was invading our garden. Soon, I can pick up invading dill weed from around the garden too!

olive oil
1 onion
~4 cloves of garlic (chopped)

1 bunch/4 cups of chopped Red Russian Kale (other varieties , collards, or spinach would work as well)
1 T mint
1 1/2 t dill
1 1/2 t lemon juice

Sautee the onions for a few minutes until they are translucent. Add the garlic. Let them sautee for a few more minutes. Add the kale. Let it cook until it shrinks down to a manageable level. Add the mint, dill, and lemon juice. Cook it for a few minutes, then put it on low while the rest of the food is cooking.

Celery Remoulade

Follow this recipe:

I went a little wild style with the food processor, so it was more of a mash than a slaw, but it was still delicious.

I really enjoyed this veggie and I hope you do too! Next up is rutabega, so please post your favorite rutabega recipe.


I kept the quinoa basic and let the other dishes shine.

3 c water
1 1/2 c quinoa

Let the water boil (in a pot). Slam the quinoa in the pot and let it cook until it has absorbed the water. Fluff it with a fork occassionally for best results.

We also topped it off with a nice piece of focaccia bread from Basil's Harvest.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

rich chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting

Yesterday two wonderful, beautiful, and loving friends of mine were married. I was privileged with the duty of providing the wedding cake for the happy couple. Cake making is a passionate hobby of mine which will continue to show up in many future entries to come. I'm happy that this lovely, tried and true recipe, gets to be my first post on the topic.

The chocolate cake recipe is adapted from a number of vegan chocolate cake recipes floating around the internet. This version has been tried and tested many times in my kitchen to produce a recipe with a larger number of servings while retaining a rich, moist, and deep chocolate flavor.

The frosting is your classic buttercream recipe veganized, with the addition of melted chocolate chips rather than cocoa powder for a deeper, dark chocolate flavor.

Chocolate Cake

serving size: 40-50 (recipe works just fine cut in half for a smaller version)

For batter:

4 1/2 cups of flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
3 1/2 cup sugar (I recommend using superfine baker's sugar if available)
1 tbs baking soda
1 cup canola oil
3 tbs vinegar
1 1/2 tbs vanilla
3 1/4 cup cold water
1 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For frosting:

1 cup shortening at room temperature(I recommend Earth Balance shortening sticks, don't use Crisco, it's totally gross)
1 cup buttery sticks at room temperature (again, use Earth Balance for best results, do not use the tub version)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup melted semisweet chocolate chips
4 cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12 inch round pan and an 8 inch OR for a double layer cake, two 10 inch round pans.

In a large mixing bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and baking soda. Mix well. Add the canola oil, vinegar, and vanilla and then with the mixer on slowly pour the cold water into the batter. Mix until smooth.

Pour batter into greased pans. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly across the tops of the batter and immediately place in oven. Bake 30-35 minutes until center is set. The 12 inch pan may take a couple minutes longer than the 8 inch pan to finish. Do not be fooled when your toothpick down the center of the cake comes up dirty, the chocolate chips will have melted and will not provide you an accurate result. Instead, press the center of the cake with your palm, if there is resistance then cake is done.

Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. With a butter knife slide around edge of inside pan to help release. Turn pan over onto a wire cooling rack and rap the middle of the pan a few times until cake is out. Allow to cool completely before frosting.


Cream margarine and shortening with an electric mixer until smooth. You may have to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times. Add vanilla extract and mix one minute more.

Melt the semisweet chocolate chips. I recommend the double boiling method, but a microwave also works. Add to bowl and mix until all ingredients are smooth and the color is uniform.

Slowly, cup by cup, add in the powdered sugar. Scrape sides of bowl between each addition. If frosting seems too stiff mix in a tsp of water, repeat as necessary until desired consistency is achieved.

Decorate as you wish!

Like the cake in the picture? Hire me to make it for your next event, or a different cake of your design.

The happy couple with their cake:

Congratulations Jasper and Cherie!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

serbianesque beans

We decided to make some bean-based dish last week. I've had an aversion to using dried beans, because I've been too impatient with them in the past. But I trudged through the pantry and found an incredibly old and suspect bag of black beans. Their age made me uncomfortable (not usual), so I disposed of them and selected some pinto beans. I soaked them for several days until I remembered them and we were hungry.

My mom makes delicious Serbian beans, so I decided to replicate them. I consulted my trusty Serbian Women's Auxiliary of St. Michael's Church (Saratoga, California) cookbook, but couldn't find the recipe in the index. (Yes, I realize it's in there, but couldn't locate it at the time). I poked around on the internets and found a few references that guided me (particularly this one: It definitely turned out better than my previous attempts at making beans from scratch and tasted way better than canned beans. I still have a long way to go to match my mom's though. It looks kind of gloppy, but I swear it is tasty!

Here is an attempt at constructing the recipe. I will make a better effort at keeping track next time!

A few cups of beans - maybe 4 dry cups? (I used pinto but feel free to experiment)
Several more cups of water

Olive oil
2 Carrots
1 Large Onion
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Celery Stalk

~2 Tablespoons of olive oil
~1 Tablespoon of flour
~1 Tablespoon of paprika

Put the beans in a pot. Cover them with a few inches of water. Let them soak overnight. Don't forget about them.

Replace the beany water with clean water (use the old water for gardening?)
Boil those beans for at least an hour and a half. I'd go a little longer - mine were kind of hard.

While the beans are boiling, sautee the veggies.

Next, make the zaprška (essential!). Heat the oil in a different pan, then slam the flour and paprika in the oil. Mix it around for a few minutes.

Put the zaprška in the veggie pan and turn down the heat until the beans are ready. Toss the veggies in the bean pot. Let them hang out for a few minutes - maybe 10. You might want to toss in a bay leaf or two. Salt to taste.


the time to garden is now

Our first sprout of the season was a little Calabrese Broccoli we named Charlie because he appeared on Darwin's 200th birthday.

The gardening season is starting to ramp up! The average last frost date for central IL has passed (although you wouldn't think so from today's chilly weather) and we're steadily approaching the frost free date of May 12th. This means it's time to start planning your garden!

This is our second year gardening at a rented space in Meadowbrook park in Urbana, IL. Our plot is 17x30 and cost an affordable 60 dollars for the season. Last year we purchased most of our plants from the farmer's market and various plant sales in addition to direct sowing certain seeds. However, this year we've taken it to the next step by starting our seeds indoors. This method will save us a ton of money in the long run when you consider most seedlings go for at least two dollars at the market and seed packets, anywhere from 10 to 100 seeds, cost four dollars or less (usually less!).

But it's not the money that has inspired us to start our seedlings indoors; rather, the satisfaction of watching a plant grow from a tiny little seed into something beautiful and delicious is a profoundly fulfilling experience the majority of people today don't even realize they're missing. Nurturing my seedlings, watching them grow bit by bit everyday, figuring out what they need, and developing a relationship with them (yes I have a relationship with my plants) is a wonderfully, poetic experience which has improved my life. As a result, I want it to be known to all that growing your plants, from seed, is utterly and completely worth every ounce of energy required.

Oh and one more thing: growing plants from seeds is easy! People may think it takes a lot of skill or knowledge to grow a garden. Honestly, the most important factor is commitment. Yes, I read up on different methods and follow gardening websites, but if all you do is read the back of the seed packet you've still got enough information to grow your own food.

It's not too late to get started with your garden. There are lots of great resources out there for all levels of gardeners such as the Illinois Extension website (perfect for midwestern gardeners!),, and

Here is a picture of our seedlings and the light stand Tom built for them:

This light stand has proved invaluable for our little seedlings. It has been perfect for starting our plants early when the sun outside was out for too short a time for our little guys and girls to thrive. Now we are happy to show off seedlings with strength to their stems and color in their leaves.

Click here for directions on how to build this stand.

Seedling love:

Pictured are a variety of seedlings including tomatoes, peppers, marigolds, basil, parsley, and more.

I look forward to sharing recipes with you all that will be inspired and created from the vegetables these plants produce.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

cheezy tofu bagel sandwich

Yay our first blog post! Tom loves sandwiches, and I'm a particular fan of the breakfast variety, so we're starting things off with this tasty, cheezy, tofu bagel sandwich. We ate this for dinner, but I would place it in the breakfast arena because of its "eggy" tofu patties.


12 oz silken tofu
1 tbs nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 tbs olive oil

1 medium sized onion
2 Bagels

1 recipe cheezy sauce or 2 slices vegan cheese
note: we used the cheezy sauce recipe from Veganomicon

recipe makes two sandwiches

Cut the onion into slices. Heat 1 tbs olive oil in a frying pan and toss in onions. Stir until coated with oil and allow to cook.

Put tofu, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper in food processor and blend. Pour remaining 1 tbs olive oil in frying pan and tilt until oil coats bottom. Next is the tricky part. Using a 1 tbs measuring spoon, scoop out tofu mixture and drop into pan (watch out for hot, oil splatters!). Place 3-4 seperate tbs in pan depending on size (see picture).

Allow to sit 4 minutes before touching with spatula or fork. When edges begin to brown and pull away from pan, gently slide fork or spatula under mixture and flip. Don't worry if it gets a little messy, think of it like cooking an egg, not a pancake. Cook until both sides are browned and remove. Continue process until tofu mixture is used up (see picture).

Toast bagels, then load up with tofu patties, cheezy sauce, and grilled onions. enjoy!