Pad Thai and pizza

November 10, 2010 - 2 Responses

We added a new friend to the family yesterday.

Pad Thai’s new pad.

He’s a very active little betta, and we’ve named him Pad Thai, just Thai for short.

Moving on …

Speedy vegetarian gourmet: Pizza with mozzarella, feta, tomatoes, apples and spinach.

Last night, we were getting hungry and it was getting late, and I was sent by a still-working roommate on a frozen pizza run. I ended up at Central Market instead of our normal H-E-B . I started putting things in my basket the second I walked in and saw that blackberries were on sale, and by the time I got to the checkout, I had the makings of something far more interesting (and far more expensive) than a 99-cent Totino’s ever thought about being.

And 25 minutes after I got home, we sat down to what he called “one of the best meals you’ve made in a long time.” (I think his short-term memory had already forgotten about the “world’s fluffiest banana-pecan pancakes” from the weekend before, but I let it slide because it was a nice thing to say.) It was just pizza and salad, but it was terrific.

Extreme(ly decadent) pizza closeup!

Tart-Sweet Pizza:

  • Fresh, premade pizza crust (Central Market’s crusts are fluffy, ultra-fresh and lightly seasoned with garlic and rosemary, so this was no Boboli)
  • Olive oil
  • Whole-milk mozzarella
  • Bulgarian sheep’s milk feta
  • Yellow grape tomatoes (‘sunbursts’)
  • Gala apple
  • Orange blossom honey
  • Spinach leaves
  • Freshly ground pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush top and bottom of crust with olive oil.
  2. Shred mozzarella and sprinkle on pizza. Crumble a small amount of feta and sprinkle on top.
  3. Bake on top rack of oven for 5 minutes.
  4. While baking, quarter tomatoes and slice apple very thinly. You’ll only need about a third to a fourth of the apple. Toss with a squirt of honey to gently coat.
  5. Remove pizza from oven and top with tomatoes, apple slices and spinach leaves, and grind pepper over to taste. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and/or a very small amount of honey, if desired.
  6. Return to oven for another five to six minutes or until crust is golden brown and spinach starts to wilt. While that’s baking, make your salad.

Spinach salad with seasonal fruit and orange blossom honey vinaigrette.

Savory Fruit Salad

Tweak quantities as desired, of course. This was good split between 2 people as a side salad.

  • 2 loose cups spinach leaves
  • Blackberries, halved or whole, about 8
  • Thinly sliced apple (1/3-1/2 of apple)
  • 2 Tbsp. diced pecans
  • 2 Tbsp. dried cranberries
  • Halved yellow tomatoes. about 8
  • Pinch of crumbled feta on top
  • Dressing: 2 parts olive oil to one part each balsamic vinegar and orange blossom honey, plus salt and pepper.

The odd couple: Blackberries and feta. They work great together.

Timely treats

September 23, 2010 - One Response

I tend to think of sangria as more of a summery beverage, but the end of summer and start of fall is an equally good time to enjoy some of the most luscious fruits around

We made sangria two ways recently. The first was according to a recipe I can’t seem to track down now, but with our own twist.

sangria in the kitchen

My hands slicing lemons for our first attempt at sangria.

We used:

  • 1 bottle of a citrusy Pinot grigio (we used La Villa, which was very tasty at less than $10)
  • 1/2 box of peach ‘nectar’ (aka really sweet peach juice, also available in cans)
  • 2 peaches, sliced
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice plus 1 sliced lemon
  • 1/2 pint raspberries
  • 1/2 of a large mango, sliced
  • About half a cup of torn up fresh Thai basil, plus a sprig to garnish
  • A few spoonfuls of sugar

To make the sangria, we cooked down half the peach nectar, the lemon juice, the basil and the sugar until it had boiled a bit and the basil leaves were fully bruised, then we strained the mixture into a pitcher filled with the wine, the sliced fruit and the remainder of the peach nectar. Then we chilled it for a few hours while we went to the movies.

It turned out quite sweet, too sweet for most of the guests at the Labor Day happy hour we brought it to. Once I started garnishing glasses with a squeeze of lime and a wedge, it was more tolerable. It mellowed out with time, and two days later, it was at its peak. Still, I’d recommend using half the juice and cutting out most or all of the sugar.

sangria fruits

My second-favorite thing about sangria is looking at it.

I was left to my own devices last week and came up with a recipe for a much more tart version of the sangria using things we already had around the house. My only disappointment was using Alice White Pinot grigio, which is not so good even among bottles for less than $10, and not skinning my apples, which added a touch of unwelcome bitterness. Anyway, here’s how that one went:

  • 1 bottle Pinot grigio
  • 1/3 box peach nectar
  • Juice of 1 1/2 sweet lemons
  • 1 1/2 lemons, sliced
  • 1 peach, sliced
  • 1 apple, sliced (I used a Gala) and peeled
  • 1/2 mango, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. ginger, peeled and sliced into thin pieces
  • Sugar to taste
  • Segment of seeded pepper of your choice (I used a 2-inch piece of Hatch chili)

Cook the ginger in the peach nectar and lemon juice, adding sugar as desired. Strain the liquid into a pitcher containing wine and sliced fruits. I added the pepper to give it a little kick. I’ll warn you to take out the pepper after you’ve let it refrigerate for a few hours so it doesn’t overwhelm the other flavor. I’d imagine the ginger flavor is enough spiciness for most people.

Now that it’s getting a little cooler out (It’s only 89 degrees today.), I’m looking forward to trying some red wine-based sangrias.

Football season for me means lots of work to do. But for someone else in our household, it’s a lot of fun. Trying to get in the spirit of things, I made a halftime treat during last week’s Cowboys game. I grilled a new Morningstar fake chicken patty and toasted some bread in lieu of hamburgers on buns, but the fan favorite was my oven fries.

Start working in the second quarter, and they’ll be done in time to enjoy at halftime. Best of all, they taste terrific and you don’t lose any to being burnt onto the baking sheet, as always seems to happen to me. This recipe is perfect for two hungry people who skipped breakfast.

oven fries and chikin

Pardon the look of my sandwich and check out the potatoes.

Halftime Garlic Oven Fries

  • 3 medium red potatoes, washed
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Vegetable oil
  • Cornmeal
  • Salt, pepper and cumin
  1. Preheat oven to 400. Slice potatoes into even matchstick pieces — I used a mandoline, but my knife skills are pretty inferior. Place in an ice bath as you slice them.
  2. Press, crush or dice garlic into a tablespoon or so of olive oil.
  3. Rinse potatoes and pat dry.
  4. Toss in olive oil and garlic. Season with salt, pepper and cumin.
  5. Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal. Lay potatoes flat in a single layer on the sheet. Sprinkle very lightly with additional cornmeal.
  6. Bake about 20 minutes, rotating and shaking the sheet halfway through to assure fries don’t stick.
  7. They should be a light golden brown when ready.

Brownie bubbles

September 14, 2010 - One Response
brownie bubbles

Little hemispheres of brownie goodness

These are a bit too rich to be cookies, not quite a tray of hard-to-cut brownies. They’re basically a dark chocolate, caramel and walnut treat.

Brownie Bubbles




  • 5 Werther’s Originals or other hard caramels
  • Splash of milk or nondairy milk alternative
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • Half-bag dark chocolate chips (6 oz.)
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, optional
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Crushed walnuts or other nuts
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Place candies in a microwave-safe dish. Cover with milk. Heat in microwave on low power until melted, stirring every 30 seconds.
  3. Add condensed milk, chocolate chips and butter. Microwave 2 minutes on medium power.
  4. Continue to microwave in 30-second increments until all ingredients are melted.
  5. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon and flour.
  6. Place on a greased baking sheet in large spoonfuls.
  7. Press crushed walnuts on top of each bubble to flatten slightly.
  8. Bake about 8 minutes, being sure to turn sheet at halfway point. They’ll continue to firm considerably after coming out of the oven and being placed on a cooling rack or paper towel.
brownie cookie closeup

So rich you’ll probably only eat just one. Think we can call them ‘diet dessert’?

Notes: Feel free to skip the caramels (and the first part of the recipe) entirely, if you want something a little less sweet. Oh, and be SURE to rotate them halfway through or they’ll collapse on one side.

Tempeh and cabbage

August 25, 2010 - Leave a Response

I know most of my readers (and most eaters) aren’t big tempeh fans, but I’m the opposite. If Tempeh and the Beets were a band that went on tour, I’m pretty sure they’d find me as their sole groupie. How embarrassing that would be! Fortunately, they’re just unpopular foods.

This week, I made tempeh and cabbage for a quick, packable lunch for work.

Tempeh, cabbage

Tempeh, cabbage and the standard Jaime seasoning.

It’s supremely easy. I’ve posted my go-to tempeh recipe before. This just adds a very brief cabbage cooking to the end of that.

First, I generally cook tempeh according to this recipe, but in this case, I’ll modify it a bit.

Tempeh and Cabbage

For the tempeh:

  • 1 block tempeh, cut into about 16-24 equal-size chunks.
  • 2 Tbsp. butter or oil
  • 1-2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1-2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. sriracha sauce
  • 2 tsp. tamari or soy sauce

For the cabbage:

  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • Dash of oil or pat of butter
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. sriracha
  • 2 tsp. tamari or soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat a pan on medium-high heat, melting butter. Once hot, add the cubed tempeh and garlic. Add additional seasonings in the pan, to taste (I usually add the soy sauce about 5 minutes in), turning tempeh occasionally until medium brown.
  2. Remove tempeh from the pan and set aside.
  3. Don’t turn off the heat. Lower it slightly, and add just a touch of oil, so the pan is slick, then add the garlic and about 2 cups of shredded cabbage.
  4. When the cabbage begins to wilt, stir and season to taste.
  5. Take it out when the cabbage is softened and has absorbed the soy sauce and spice, but be careful not to let it get mushy.
tempeh to go

Start to finish, 15 minutes. Then out the door and on to work.

I have cooked this many times and can now safely say that omitting the mirin and half of the butter from the standard recipe won’t hurt .(Cutting back on fat and sugar is always good, right?) And adding Sriracha sauce will only add to the deliciousness.

On the outback/in a chain restaurant/in my kitchen

August 17, 2010 - One Response

The last time I went to an Outback Steakhouse, I was probably about 14 years old. I had a baked sweet potato. I had no real desire to go back again, ever. But many people have fond memories of their bread, served in tiny loaves and unlike other breads in some mysterious and special way.

Ever the willing culinary experimenter (at least when it comes to all things vegetarian), I got online and started searching for an imitation recipe. For those of you who have tried to cut down on expenses and trips out, note that many home chefs have posted their imitations of hundreds of popular chain restaurant dishes online. I knew I’d seen at least one Outback recipe before.

Well, I found quite a few versions of the sweet, dark “Bushman” bread, many calling for a load of food coloring and odd ingredients like cocoa powder to make their recipes match the mass-produced product’s distinctive chocolate-brown.

bread and flowers

Fresh bread and fresh flowers

This recipe, from The Restaurant Recipes Book, looked the most edible and interesting. Recipe is pasted from the site.

Outback Steakhouse Bushman Bread


  • 2 packages (that’s 4 1/2 tsp.) dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 cups rye flour
  • 2 1/2 -3 cups bread flour


  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Soften yeast in 1/2 cup warm water.
  3. Stir in the sugar and let stand 6 minutes or until it’s bubbly.
  4. In large mixing bowl combine the yeast/water combo above along with 1 cup warm water with molasses, salt, oil and rye flour.
  5. Mix this until it makes a nice smooth batter.
  6. Work in the bread flour until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. It should be very pliable and elastic.
  7. Knead the dough for a few minutes and then let it rise in a greased bowl until it’s doubled.
  8. Punch the dough down and shape into 2 large round loaves
  9. Placed the loaves a few inches apart on a greased and cornmeal dusted cookie sheet. Sprinkle a bit of the cornmeal over the top of the loaves as well.
  10. Let loaves rise in a warm place until doubled.
  11. Bake loaves at 375 for about 30 minutes or until the crust makes hollow sound when tapped.
bushman bread

Just add butter.

We found that the main problem with this recipe was that it didn’t convey just how long the process took. Preheating your oven should be more like the 10th step — we waited around for half an hour, then went to lunch and shopping for phone cables, before the dough had doubled the first time, and we had to turn our oven off again when we got to the second rising period, which took at least 45 minutes.

Also, our cooking time was more like 50 minutes, and the bread probably could have still used another few, but we were worried, as non-experts, that we might be overdoing it, so we took it out at that point.

The loaves turn out huge, soft on the inside and generally quite good. And the actual work part is easy.

The household’s Outback expert was fully satisfied (though not convinced it’s the perfect imitation). He suggested that next time we divide it into four loaves, so we can have the authentic tiny ones the restaurant serves.

Beet it

August 12, 2010 - 5 Responses
beet puree

They’re actually a lovely jeweled deep pink. Puree in a food processor for a smoother look.

Mashed beets

  • 3 beets
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. molasses
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • Garlic, salt and pepper to taste
  1. Put beets in a pot of water to boil. While they boil for 40 minutes to 1 hour, peel and quarter the potato. Add the potato for the last 10-12 minutes of boiling time or until tender.
  2. Peel beets (submerge them in cold water to avoid scalded hands) and chop into quarters or smaller.
  3. Blend beets, potatoes, butter, molasses and yogurt. Season as desired.

It probably sounds strange to add cinnamon and garlic to the same dish. It is. I’d pick one or the other if I were you, but both are good, actually, even if you just end up doing it by accident.

The guy who doesn’t love beets in our house was even OK with these. I loved them.

Walnut- and Panko-Crusted Eggplant

July 1, 2010 - One Response

We’ve had an eggplant sitting on the counter, begging me to do something with it, for days now. I wanted to attempt eggplant Parmesan, but the greasy, heavy nature of the dish just didn’t sound quite right in this muggy, hot weather we’ve been having.

Today’s dish lifts heavily from the Whole Foods eggplant parm recipe, but with a few key twists.

Walnut- and Panko-Crusted Eggplant

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into about 1/3 inch-thick slices
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Panko or other breadcrumbs, about 1 1/2 cups
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large (25-26 oz.) jar tomato sauce of your choice (or homemade, if you’re so inclined)
  • 2/3 cup shredded mozzarella
  • Pepper (be generous!)
  1. Salt eggplant thoroughly, and let sit 15 minutes to an hour, until it’s sweating. This cuts the bitterness.
  2. While sweating the eggplant, run garlic and walnuts in a food processor until thoroughly ground (about the same consistency as your crumbs). Combine with crumbs, salt and pepper.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 with 2 baking sheets inside. When oven is hot, remove sheets and oil thoroughly so eggplant won’t stick.
  4. Rinse salt from eggplant, if they’re heavily salted, and wipe eggplant slices dry.
  5. Dip each slice in egg and drip off excess. Then dip in panko and nut mixture to coat.
  6. Lay slices flat on baking sheets and bake 15 minutes. Take them out, flip and bake another 10 minutes.
  7. Raise oven temperature to 475.
  8. Coat bottom of a baking dish with tomato sauce. Lay baked slices of eggplant in the sauce, layering if necessary, with tomato sauce between layers. Top with more sauce and the mozzarella and bake another 15 minutes.

Monochromatic flavor explosion

June 29, 2010 - Leave a Response

I had some leftover quinoa lentil pilaf, and I paired it with some cheesy scrambled eggs and a dessert of plain low-fat yogurt with honey, cinnamon and frozen mixed fruit (peaches, mangoes, papayas, grapes, cantaloupe and pineapple).

vegetarian brunch

The fella insisted that I take a picture of our meal. High praise, from him!

The quinoa got rave reviews from my fellow diner both on first try and as leftovers and mixed with the eggs.

Quick Quinoa Pilaf

  • 1 cup mixed quinoa and lentils (I bought this premixed, it was about 90:10::quinoa:lentils, you could use plain quinoa and reduce the water and cooking time)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup mixed frozen vegetables (I used peas and carrots)
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tsp. tamari
  • Garlic, cumin, basil, chili pepper, salt and pepper
  • Mozzarella or other light cheese
  1. Bring water, with a splash of olive oil, to a boil. Add quinoa-lentil blend. Cover and let simmer.
  2. After about 20 minutes, add vegetables and seasonings to taste.  Cook about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the pot.
  3. Serve topped with a pinch of the cheese of your choice.

Reheats well!

Bite-sized beauties

May 9, 2010 - One Response

First, we’re going to take a trip in the way-back machine to earlier this year, when I made an indoor picnic with only bite-size items.

We ate on a blanket in my living room.

On the menu:

  • Vegetables:  baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli crowns, and peeled and sliced cucumber
  • Dessert tray: Chocolate-covered espresso beans, blood orange segments, sliced strawberries, cashews, honey-roasted pecans and dried cranberries
  • Other: rosemary sourdough cubes, sourdough crackers, cubed tempeh (marinated in BBQ flavor, quickly warmed up on the stove), marinated mozzarella balls
  • Dips: Lemony yogurt, garlic-pepper ranch, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar with spices

One of my favorite desserts.

Easy and delicious!

And today at work we’re having a Mother’s Day potluck, and I contributed little caprese canapés.

Caprese canapes, ready to serve in 20 minutes.

  • 5-6 slices sourdough or other crusty white bread, cut into thirds
  • Fresh mozzarella block
  • Tomatoes (about 2, depends on the type you use)
  • Basil (about 2 stalks)
  • Olive oil
  • Pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 300. Brush bread  with olive oil (I used one flavored with garlic — you could of course use fresh garlic, or skip it entirely) and place on a baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted.
  2. Slice mozzarella and tomatoes and chiffonade the basil. If very moist, dry ingredients by pressing between paper towels.
  3. Top toast with mozzarella. Turn up the oven to about 450 and return the tray to the oven for about 5 minutes, or until cheese begins to melt.
  4. Top with tomatoes and basil, plus salt and pepper as desired.

This recipe makes about 20, but it’s of course easy to scale up or down.

Again, easy!

DIY: Protect your laptop

April 28, 2010 - 5 Responses

As my readers know, I got a laptop for my birthday last month. Shortly after that, I began looking for a snug, little laptop pouch for easy transport. Most packs were too bulky or the wrong size for my 11.2-inch mini laptop, or they were too ugly and utilitarian.

Yesterday I scoured the Internet for handmade cases, and I realized that almost all laptop sleeve designs are incredibly simple. So I then began looking for instructions on how to make my own. I figured I’d sew something, until I found a really cute no-sew felt concept. Mine isn’t quite as cute as the design sponge version, but given the very limited felt selection available at Hancock Fabrics today (if it’s not in an 8-crayon box of Crayolas, they didn’t have it) and my utter confusion once I got home and started, I think I did a good job.

Snug lil’ laptop.

Here’s how to copy me:

1. Safety first. Don’t drop a bolt of fabric and give yourself the paper cut of a lifetime . Don’t set the iron on your leg. (OK, that’s not copying me, that’s learning from my experience.)

Red mark = cardboard cut. Missing skin = iron burn. Ow.

2. You’ll need 2 pieces of felt about 20 inches by 30 inches for an 11-inch computer. I’d add another 2 inches to be safe, and another 2 for every inch larger than my laptop yours is. And one equal-size piece of “fusible web” or Heat-N-Bond.

3. Following the instructions on the Heat-N-Bond, place it paper-side up (sticky side against the felt) on 1 sheet of felt;. You may have to do some adjusting, as the felt is sold in much wider pieces than the iron-on adhesive. Iron quickly on a medium-low heat setting until it is evenly and thoroughly stuck (hold 2-3 seconds in each place). When it cools, peel the paper off.

4. Place the second piece of felt evenly on top of the sticky side of the first piece. Iron the felt sheets together until  thoroughly stuck. I had to do this a few times because I was using a heat setting that was somewhat too low and not staying in each spot for long enough because I was worried about melting the fabric. Use common sense. If you have uneven parts with the adhesive showing, beware that it’s quite sticky. As in, it’ll stick to your iron, whatever surface you’re ironing on, your skin, etc.

5. Place your laptop slightly to the upper right of center on the flat, laid-out felt. You’ll want to  mark out a cross shape that’s roughly three times as wide (and the same length in one direction as the laptop, and three times as long (but the same width in the other direction. See picture. The right and top ends can be slightly shorter so that when it’s folded, the sides won’t overlap completely. Don’t forget to take the height into account for wrapping purposes.

I am a crooked cutter. You can do better.

6. Cut out the cross shape, being careful not to cut all the way to the very inner corners. Cut the inner corners on a diagonal so you’ll be able to protect the corners of the laptop.

7. Trim any excess fabric or irregular edges. I added a zigzag edge to the flap that will show when the case is closed.

Purple with red inside.

8. Apply sticky-backed Velcro to edges that will meet when the case is closed.

9. You’re done!


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