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a little bbq inspiration

summer is winding down here in chicago- the weather has cooled and we're finally getting some much-needed rain. but as much as i'm looking forward to warm drinks, cozy blankets, and pulling on plush socks knit by my grandmother, i'm not ready to say good-bye to summer yet. at least not before i get one more bbq in. here are some recipes from what was probably one of the best bbq menus i've put together- it was super tasty and SO EASY! i used grilled veggies as sides and toppings (instead of the usual raw lettuce/onions/tomatoes)- there's less to think about when everything just goes on the bbq (thus also amping up the yumminess quotient) and it makes sandwich combos pretty much endless (as well as highly customizable for those who are hesitant about tempeh/weirded out by mushrooms/etc). creamy coleslaw on my portobello burger? yes please!

bbq menu
bbq tempeh burgers with sweet potato (recipe from the first mess)
portobello cap burgers w/avocado
grilled veggies
coleslaw w/almond mayo
cantaloupe popsicles

bbq tempeh w/sweet potatoes 
(minimally adapted from the first mess based on what i had on hand. laura's tempeh & sweet potato sandwiches are pretty much perfect, so there's no point changing anything unless you're short on ingredients)
"burger" components:
1 block tempeh
2 medium sweet potatoes

2 tsp olive oil
1 yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
1.5 cups ketchup
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sriracha
4 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons vegetarian worcestershire sauce (or tamari if you're in a pinch)
*optional: 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

- slice your block of tempeh width-wise (so you have two thinner versions of your original block) and cut into desired shapes/sizes (larger for burgers, smaller for dinner rolls, triangles if you want to get funky with it). set aside.

- peel your sweet potatoes and slice them into 1/3" rounds. steam until "al dente" (or boil if you're in a super hurry). 

- while the potatoes cook make your bbq sauce: mince onion and garlic in a food processor until they form a chunky paste. heat a saucepan and add your olive oil, followed by your onion/garlic mixture. allow this to cook for about 2 minutes until onion chunks become translucent. add all remaining ingredients and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. 

- while your sauce simmers drain your sweet potato, let cool, and place on a serving plate with sides/burger toppings (below).

- pour warm bbq sauce over tempeh (you'll have extra sauce, which is perfect because it's so delicious that you're probably going to want to spread it on everything else). let marinate at least 30 minutes and then grill. 

3/4 head of cabbage (green, purple, or a combo), shredded
5 carrots, peeled and julienned/shredded
1 red pepper, diced
almond mayo to taste (recipe from lagusta's luscious)

- mix shredded cabbage, carrots, and diced pepper together with almond mayo. easy peasy!

cantaloupe popsicles
1 cantaloupe
sweetener to taste (i use maple syrup)

- another super easy recipe: peel the melon, cut into chunks, and blend. mix in sweetener if desired, and pour into popsicle molds. freeze 3 hrs.

sides and alternate burger toppings
for the grill:
portobello mushroom caps
roma tomatoes, halved
red onions, sliced into thick rings
corn on the cob

fresh arugula
sliced avocado

you'll also want to have the usual suspects on hand: buns, mustard, relish/pickles, ketchup. daquiris...


meet pete!

there's always room for pete-za!
meet our new kitty pete (or pete-za as we like to call him)! we adopted him from tree house last week (he's had his share of ups and downs so we're hoping to be his forever home) and we have fallen under the spell of his his elvis snarl and affectionate, enthusiastic head-butts! pete is a kitty with a heart of gold- so loving, trusting, and so desperate to befriend our stranger-shy klaus... 

"love me!"
klaus: "why does this guy follow me EVERYWHERE?"
pete: "i wonder if she wants me
to head-but her..."
learning to share space
klaus isn't a very adaptable cat, but we've caught her warming up to sweet mr. pete, even letting him lick her face and cheek (a HUGE deal for our typically skittish and ornery klaus). it may take a while for klaus to trust him, but we know in time they'll be buds. i mean, even klaus can't resist a face like this...

greener pesto

i'm one of those people who doesn't like to eat the same thing twice, so i'm always changing up and adding to recipes. pesto is a really easy recipe to customize- i've seen all sorts of variations online- and tonight i tweaked ours by adding more greens to it. don't get me wrong, i love the simplicity and earthiness of pesto, but sometimes it gets a little boring.

greener pesto
1 cup blanched kale
1/2 cup blanched parsley
2 cups raw basil
1/3 cup raw pepitas
1/3 cup raw almonds
4 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 to 3/4 cup cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil*
1 teaspoon himalayan pink salt
a squeeze of lemon juice

*or sub 1 fresh avocado for the olive oil (or use 1/3 cup oil & 1/2 avocado!)

- add all ingredients except olive oil to a food processor or vita-mix and blend, adding the olive oil slowly as everything blends. if you use avocado you can just add it with all the ingredients at the beginning. that's it- so easy!!

tonight we mixed the pesto into red pepper linguine and have plenty extra for sandwich-spreading and veggie-dipping. if you're not going to use it within a day or so i would recommend storing it in the freezer in a closed glass jar, with olive oil covering the top of the pesto so it doesn't oxidize. then whenever you want some you can scoop out just what you need! this is a great way to add pesto flavor to dips and sauces in winter when fresh herbs are scarce.


recovering my grandmother's dress form, part 1

my paternal grandmother passed away at the beginning of this year. more than a homemaker she was a master of domesticity who loved to take care of her family. from sewing to quilting to cooking to gardening and preserving, she had at least two sets of supplies (but usually more) for any craft that could interest you. over the past few years we had talked about me taking her dress form several times, and after her funeral i finally brought it home. it waited patiently in the corner of my living room until i decided to get on with the business of cleaning and re-covering it. grandma k hadn't moved it from her basement in decades and i knew it was going to be a project...
originally my plan was just to clean and cover what was there, but once i opened it up and saw what was inside- spider webs (and a live spider!), dust bunnies, and lady bug wings- i realized that i was going to have to pull off the fabric covering to make sure i wasn't leaving any dirt sandwiched between it and the frame. i'm so glad i did! there was a thick layer of dust underneath. but it was no match for my shop-vac (technically my husband's, but what's his is mine, right?)! i used the shop-vac hose to suck up dirt while i removed the fabric (turns out it was just glued to the inside of each segment so it pulled right off).
after vacuuming every inch, inside and out, i used a dry paintbrush to sweep out anything sandwiched between the bolts on the inside right into the shop-vac hose (the dry paintbrush-to-vacuum hose
so dirty!
maneuver is a great trick i learned from my mom, and it works really well to clean out the dust/cat hair that always finds its way into those tiny spots between the vertical pipes of steam radiators).
so now she's all clean and ready and waiting for me to find a little time for part 2: recovering her in some clean fabric. i have some (and by some i mean barrels) of grandma k's stockpile of remnants and yards and i'm thinking maybe i can cover her in some sassy patchwork- to crazy or just the right nod to grandma k? keep your eyes peeled for the next chapter- hopefully coming soon!


easy peasy lunch

whole wheat spaghetti with peas and almonds
so this is basically the easiest pasta dish you can make- one pot, four ingredients, under 15 minutes. i like to make this on days like today where i have and early lunch at home before work and want some leftovers to take with me for a snack since i'll be working until after dinner time. all of the ingredients can be subbed with other pastas/legumes/nuts/oils, so it's an easy one to make with whatever you have on hand. i was first introduced to the fantastic pasta-nut combo as a kid, when i used to spend a lot of time at my best friend kini's house. her parents made the most delicious dinners- i can still taste her dad's home-made bread, the salad dressing that i used to be allowed to dip my fingers in after all the salad was gone, and the sweet walnut whole wheat spaghetti her mom used to make. she would grind up walnuts and a bit of sugar in the food processor and toss that into spaghetti. the heat of the pasta would melt the sugar and help the walnuts stick to the pasta. yum! this recipe takes that idea and adapts it for spring, taking out the sugar to make it a little lighter, and adding peas for green freshness. all of the ingredients are high in protein and the whole wheat pasta and nuts are complex carbs, so this is a good meal to keep you fueled for a long time. 

whole wheat spaghetti with peas and almonds
2 portions whole wheat spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
1 cup green peas (i used frozen, but fresh would be even better)
1 cup raw almonds (or pistachios or walnuts...)
1 teaspoon walnut oil (you could sub another nut or olive oil)

- cook pasta according to directions on the box.

- while the pasta cooks use a food processor to grind almonds until they become a coarse meal (you want them to look kind of sandy, with a few coarse chunks)

- about a minute before pasta is done turn off heat and add your frozen peas to the pot. let sit for 1-2 min and then use the lid of your pot to drain the pasta water (it's fine to leave a tiny bit of the starchy water in the pot- this will help your ingredients stick together).

- add almond meal and oil to the pot and stir to evenly distribute. salt to taste. voila! wasn't that easy?


chinese bbq seitan taste test!

home made seitan with home made bbq sauce (top)
and bbq spice mix with red no. 3 (bottom).
i've been dying to make seitan again, and since it turned out so well last time, i wanted to make it the star of the meal! enter the chinese bbq spice packet in my husband's stocking this past xmas. it's been calling to me in my dreams from inside our cabinet ever since and i've been waiting and waiting for the right time to make it- this was it! but after reading through the ingredients and instructions i realized that the dye they use to get it that red/pink color (red no. 3) was going to stain my hands for a few days if i didn't wear gloves...? did i really want us to eat that? i decided to make my own bbq sauce and see if i couldn't come up with something that would satisfy my craving for the bbq ribs i remember from my childhood trips to chinatown. after our side-by-side comparison, my home-made bbq seitan won out! the spice mix was too sweet (the first ingredient was sugar) and didn't have the depth of flavor i was looking for, plus our lips and tongues were tinted red from the dye! the bbq marinade recipe below was had a nice balance of sweet-to-savory, the ginger gave it a fresh zing of spice, and even though it didn't taste "just like when i was a kid", i would definitely make it again.

chinese bbq seitan
(seitan adapted from looking closely's "faux boeuf")
dry ingredients:
2 cups wheat gluten
1 teaspoon herbes de provence
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon chinese five spice powder
wet ingredients:
1 1/4 cups veggie broth
2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 of an onion + 4 cloves of garlic, pulsed in the food processor or blender with 1/2 cup water

cooking liquid
6 cups veggie broth
1/4 cup tamari
2 tablespoons molasses

chinese bbq marinade (adapted from
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 tablespoons sherry or madeira
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch fresh ginger, crushed

optional step: watch an awesome episode of ST:DS9
while you prepare this feast!
- mix cooking liquid ingredients in a large stock pot and bring to a simmer while you prepare your seitan.

- in a large bowl combine dry seitan ingredients. combine wet seitan ingredients in a smaller bowl. using a wooden spoon mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients. this should happen pretty quickly as you don't want to over-mix your seitan (causing it to become rubbery)- just mix enough to evenly incorporate the wet and dry mixtures. let your seitan rest 10-15 minutes.

- while your seitan rests prepare your bbq sauce: simply mix all ingredients together until well blended.

your seitan will swell up as it cooks-
don't worry, it will shrink once it's cooked through.
- at this point you can divide your seitan as you see fit (i cut mine in half for the taste test) or you can cook it whole and slice it later. carefully drop your pieces of seitan into the stock and let simmer for about an hour (you want to avoid boiling stock in order to keep your seitan tender). remove seitan and let rest on a cutting board with a moat or in a shallow bowl for 5-10 min to cool and allow excess stock to drain.

- once your seitan is cool give it a gentle squeeze (you want it as dry as possible so it will soak up lots of yummy marinade) and allow it to marinate in the bbq sauce for 3+ hours (you could even leave it overnight in the fridge).

- at this point you could grill, pan-fry, or even bake it in a covered dish. i chose to pan fry- the maple syrup in the bbq sauce will give it a nice, crispy caramelization around the edges- yum!

this recipe made way more than enough for our dinner, here are some ideas for leftovers:
• bbq sandwich with crispy lettuce, tomatoes, and cilantro (or even lettuce wraps)
• add strips of bbq seitan to a soba noodle/ramen soup
• bbq seitan & pineapple fried rice!
• serve with a cucumber-shredded carrot-scallion salad (use rice wine vinegar)

final step: watch another episode!


scallion buttermilk biscuits

i based these yummy biscuits on vaishali's basic version. i'm pretty excited about finding her food blog this morning while searching for biscuit recipes since i adore indian food and don't cook it enough! i'm making a scallion version using nutritional yeast for an undertone of cheesy flavor (you can just omit this part of the recipe if you're not a fan of nutritional yeast).

scallion buttermilk biscuits
wet ingredients
     1 cup cold unsweetened almond/soy/rice/coconut milk
     1 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
dry ingredients 
     1 cup all-purpose flour
     1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
     1/3 - 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
     2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
     1/2 teaspoon baking soda
     1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons organic coconut oil
3/4 - 1 cup chopped scallions

- mix together wet ingredients and set aside to curdle. this will be your "buttermilk".

- in a medium bowl combine dry ingredients and then use a pastry blender or fork to mix in the coconut oil (coconut oil melts at 75F, so make sure your kitchen is pretty cool when you make these). use a spoon to mix in the scallions.

- pour your "buttermilk" into the dry mixture and mix just until blended.

- roll out to a 1/2 - 1 inch thickness and cut into circles using a cookie cutter (or the top of a glass). space your biscuits about an inch or so apart on a cookie sheet and let them rise in the fridge for a 1/2 hour while you preheat your oven to 450F.
steamy oven pic

- remove biscuits from the fridge, brush the tops with milk/oil mixture and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

- bake for 12-15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

i dare you to resist eating these while they cool- they're light and flaky and the scallions have a mild flavor that's not too oniony. the nutritional yeast is just an undertone (i used 1/3 cup, if you want a "cheesier" flavor you could definitely up it to 1/2 cup without worrying about it overpowering the biscuit), probably not even noticeable to someone who didn't know it was in there. i would serve these with:
• any soup or stew
• the traditional gravy (and a tofu scramble perhaps?)
• a baby spinach dinner salad with toasted tempeh (biscuits are perfect for sopping up salad dressing)
• zucchini lasagna, using zucchini instead of pasta (they also soak up tomato sauce pretty well)
• cut in half and make a mini hummus-sprout sandwich!
the biscuits on the right are lemon-poppyseed- no recipe because they didn't turn out so well....
i realize i've posted two "breakfast" recipes in a row- i promise the next food post will be something dinner or dessert-y!


blueberry-maple seitan breakfast sausage!

The Breakfast (for dinner) of Champions!

one of my favorite meals is breakfast, or "breakfast for dinner", and i've been so excited all week to use these delicious organic blueberries for a yummy breakfast sausage!

blueberry-seitan breakfast sausage
dry ingredients
     2 cups wheat gluten
     1 Tbs dried or 2 Tbs fresh thyme
     2 tsp dried or 1 Tbs fresh sage
     1 tsp onion powder
     1/4 tsp salt
wet ingredients
     1 cup water
     1 cup blueberry sryup (see below)
     *optional: 1/2 tsp organic lemon zest

cooking liquid
8 cups filtered water
1/2 cup shoyu/tamari
equivalent of 2 bouillon cubes

blueberry syrup
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 cup maple syrup

- mix cooking liquid supplies in a large stock pot. bring to a simmer while you mix up your seitan.

- make your blueberry syrup: combine your wet ingredients in a saucepan & simmer for 10ish minutes. remove from heat and let cool. at this point you can either mash/blend your blueberries and syrup together or leave the blueberries whole, depending on your preference.

- mix your dry ingredients together in a large bowl. add cooled blueberry syrup and mix until incorporated. the danger here is over-mixing, which can make your seitan rubbery. i mix as little as possible then let the dough sit for about 15 minutes to firm up, the wet and dry spots seem to even out this way.

- drop your whole piece of seitan into the cooking liquid and let simmer for about an hour. when you remove the seitan it will be a little swollen from the liquid, but it will shrink and firm up as it cools. i place it on a cutting board with a moat for this step as it keeps the liquid that the seitan releases from getting on the counter, but you could use a bowl or a deep plate too.

- now it's time to prepare your seitan sausage! just rip off pieces from your seitan loaf and fry them on a cast iron griddle or pan and serve with your favorite breakfast foods- my suggestion would be:
 • corn cakes & black beans
 • waffles/pancakes & fresh fruit
 • breakfast potatoes and a side of garlicky greens
 • BBQ skewers with pineapple chunks
 • tofu frittata
 • bagel and tofu-scallion cream cheese

this seitan sausage is somewhat sweet from the blueberry syrup, but after spending an hour simmering in the savory mixture it has a perfect combo of sweet & savory! if you're looking for something that leans more toward the savory side, you can sub 1/4 cup shoyu/tamari for the equivalent amount of the blueberry syrup. this will give you a saltier sausage that has a milder blueberry undertone.

i have to say that i'm pretty proud of myself for this seitan. the texture was perfect, it reminded me of the seitan at lan cafe, one of my very favorite nyc spots. mmmmm... lan cafe...


getting our micro greens on!

nothing says sunday to me like walking hand-in-hand with my husband over to our local farmer's market. our first stop there is always tiny greens- we can't get enough of the micro onion sprouts, and as of yesterday i want to put micro cilantro on everything- these babies really pack a punch of flavor! in addition to being super delicious, baby micro greens are loaded with nutrients (probably why their taste is so fresh and intense). a plant's micro green stage is between the sprout (think alfalfa) and baby green (think tiny lettuce leaves). the micro green stage is  when the first little green leaves appear.
there seems to be a raging debate (within the sprouting community) over which stage, sprout or micro-green, is more nutrient-dense, but the claim either way is that these little tendrils have 20-50 times the nutrients of adult plants. personally, i'm not a huge fan of sprouts- their bland taste pales in comparison to intense flavor of micro-greens. and who really cares if micro greens have the same amount of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients as the mature plant when they're absolutely delicious and so pretty too!
tiny greens must have about 10 different baby micro greens for sale by the ounce at any given time and they're happy to let you try a few before you buy. we get the black onion every week and a few others depending on what they have on hand. the other must-tries are tiny greens' amazing sprouted humus and sprouted tortillas (we also get the fresh, sprouted tofu, which is beyond yummy)... everything you need for the most delicious post-farmer's market snack:


ain't no shame in our star trek game...

last night i made grilled polenta with portobellos and onions in a bordeaux sauce. sure it was delicious, but really, i was looking for an excuse to use these amazing cookie cutters our friend donella just gave us:

don't be jealous, you can get yours here!
after cooking the polenta i poured it into a shallow casserole pan to cool & set up. then i cut it and grilled it in our little george foreman (i bet mara and matt never thought i'd still be using this 10 years after they gave it to me!), and served it with the sauce and a yummy parsley & rice salad. obviously this meal called for a camp-out on the couch  for a little ST:DS9 dinner theater (we're watching all of DS9 over in order).

welcome to our nerdy kitchen collection little cookie cutters! i think you'll feel right at home... 

the equally amazing pizza cutter we got for xmas this year


the ups and downs of home-made soymilk

when i make something new i usually read through a bunch of recipes (in my cook books, on the internet) and then take the parts i like from each and sub a few ingredients to come up with something that works best for what i know i like/dislike and what i have in the house. after reading about the crazy amount of work involved in making soymilk at home (here, here, and even the "simple way" here), and then comparing it to the recipe in my vita-mix cookbook (video version here) i didn't need to be convinced to use the easier version. it was pretty much just like the vita-mix video- so easy i tried to give myself more work by straining the milk to see if there was any of the okara, but all i got was the milky foam (like a cappuccino!):

so i just enjoyed my soymilk with some warm irish soda bread and melty chocolate chips:

a note on taste:  i really liked the taste, it was like a creamy soy bean. it's especially good warm straight out of the vita-mix!! the authors from most of the online recipes i looked at came to the conclusion that they preferred store-bought soymilk because it tastes less "beany". my take is that home-made soymilk tastes like soy, which is what it should taste like since that's what it's made from. before soymilk went mainstream, store-bought soymilk tasted more like soy than the stuff you find at most grocery stores today. so i think it's probably just a matter of what you're used to. in the usa soy is mainly seen as a substitute for meat or dairyproducts, but in japan it's a traditional food enjoyed in a myriad of forms for it's unique taste and excellent nutritional value.

one funny thing i did notice about my soymilk is that the next day when i was making vanilla-almond ice cream, the bottom of the jug of soymilk was a lot thicker (but not grainy or chalky) than the top. don't know what that's about, but it made some yummy ice cream:

super tasty, but it turned into an ice block the next day- had to let it sit on the counter for an hour before scooping! 
for the ice cream, i used the vita-mix to blend:
1 cup home-made soymilk
1/4 cup raw almonds, soaked for 1 hr
1/4 cu maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (this stuff is the bomb, i'm never going back to vanilla extract)
3 cups ice cubes (i froze a bunch of soymilk so the ice wouldn't dilute my ice cream)

a note on protein: while i was looking through my cook books i found this super-handy little bit of info in a recipe on "sesame soy milk for children", from The Book of Tofu and Miso:
"soymilk is richer than dairy milk in almost every nutrient except calcium... the world's richest source of calcium is the sesame seed... since soy and sesame proteins are complimentary, their combination yields an abundance of high quality protein."
how cool is that? the obvious "duh" to this realization is that chick peas + sesame (aka hummus) is also a complete protein. i'm going to add sesame to everything now...


macro bowl copycat

i have become obsessed with the sesame kale macro bowl at native foods. i don't bother trying to order anything else anymore because i wind up just wanting that perfect blend of steamed kale & tangy sauerkraut  over brown rice with their amazing sesame sauce. yum. i kinda want some right now. but it's not just the taste, macrobiotic food always makes me feel energized, like my body is humming (i get the same feeling from kimchi). so i decided to try my own copycat version of the sesame kale bowl with the veggies i had in the fridge. here's what i came up with:

steamed brown rice topped with steamed spinach & baked sweet potato (with peel) topped with sunflower spouts and a drizzle of spicy sesame sauce (all organic ingredients)
for reference this is the sesame kale bowl as photographed by rachel at eat, learn, discover:

what i realized is that this basic formula will work for a wide variety of macro bowls just by substituting different grains, veg, and sauces (why is it always the most obvious realizations that come as the biggest shock?) - so here's my basic formula:

1 cup steamed brown rice (i like short grain for the satisfying chewy texture)
1/2 - 1 cup dark, leafy green
1/2 - 1 cup other veg (pick something with a contrasting color)
1/2 - 1 cup tempeh, beans, or tofu (if you can find nigari or fresh, spouted tofu, use that)
top with sauce (tahini-based, carrot-ginger, shoyu... endless possibilities here!)
garnish with fresh sprouts, micro-greens, or scallinons

for my tahini sauce i mixed tahini:shoyu:filtered water in a more-or-less 2:1:1 ratio until i had the consistency i wanted, then added half a key lime and a spoonful of miso.

i was so impressed with this macro bowl epiphany that i made another macro meal for dinner with my husband! i used a quinoa-brown rice-wild rice blend, topped it with steamed curly kale & carrots, leftover baked sweet potato from lunch, micro onion greens (these are so yummy & and add an freshness and dimension to the dish, we get ours from tiny greens at our local farmer's market) and black sesame sauce. THAT WAS SO EASY! YOU SHOULD TRY IT!