Saturday, December 29, 2012

Graham Cracker Candies

Graham Cracker Candies can be made from items most of us have in the pantry but what makes them even more appealing is how easy it is to whip up a batch. They provide a nice contrasting texture to holiday cookie trays and even with nuts my kids can't resist eating them. The original recipe is hand-written in a family cookbook and it calls for half margarine and half butter, but we almost always make them vegan with just margarine which necessitates the need to boil off the water that makes up some of margarine's mass. These are called 'candies' for a reason; while they are a crunchy, somewhat toffee-like, nutty, sweet treat, they are also rather high in fat, which is a key element in all the best candy.

15-20 graham crackers, broken into quarters
1 cup margarine
1/2 cup white sugar
Sliced almonds or chopped pecans
2 Tablespoons Turbinado sugar (optional)

  1. Heat oven to 325-degrees.
  2. Line a 9x13 cookie sheet with as many graham cracker quarters as the pan will hold.
  3. In a small sauce pan, combine sugar and margarine and bring to a boil. Boil over medium-high heat approximately 5 minutes until most of the water has evaporated.
  4. Pour sugar mixture over crackers making sure to coat them all, use a pastry brush to spread the syrup evenly if needed. 
  5. Sprinkle the crackers with the nuts of your choice, adding as many or as few nuts as you desire. Top with the turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake 10 minutes. Crackers should be bubbly and appear somewhat mushy in the pan. Wait 2 minutes for them to set up and absorb and liquid before removing them to a cooling rack. 
  7. Cool completely before storing them in an air-tight container. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Vegan Borscht with Mock Tofu Sour Cream

Borscht is yet another recipe from my mother-in-law's kitchen and it is a family classic. We eat this all through the winter as it is a perfectly satisfying vegetable soup. I will admit that I do not like beets, not even a little bit; too earthy for my palate (I think they taste like dirt) but none of those loamy undertones come through in this soup. Besides the fact that this vitamin-packed vegan version with the mock sour cream and fresh dill provides a flavor punch that sets borscht apart from other vegetarian soups, it also trumps them in beauty too, since the beets add such a lovely rich red backdrop.

Vegan Borscht

2 medium onions, chopped
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 medium carrots, cut into chunks
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
6-8 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3-4 cloves minced garlic
1 medium head cabbage, chopped
2 cans (14 oz) stewed tomatoes
2 beets, or 1-2 cans cooked beets, pureed
1 can great Northern white beans, rinsed and pureed
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
4 ounces Vodka (optional)
1 bunch fresh dill, thick stems removed, chopped fine
dash of cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper to taste
  1. In a large stock pot, cook the chopped potatoes until half done.  Drain and reserve the water.  Puree half the potatoes to use as thickener.
  2. In stock pot, saute the onion in vegetable oil until translucent.  Add carrots, celery, bell pepper, half the chopped cabbage and half the potatoes, add garlic last, tossing in pan to coat.  Allow to fry in pan approximately 10 minutes, vegetables should begin to cook through.
  3. Add stewed tomatoes, pureed beets, white beans, and potatoes.
  4. Measure 4 cups of the potato water, combine with bouillon cubes,add to pot and bring to simmer to finish cooking vegetables.
  5. Add cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. 
  6. Cook just until the vegetables are tender. Incorporate the remaining chopped cabbage and allow to cook a few minutes to soften. Add the vodka, allowing the alcohol to cook off. 
  7. Stir the dill in last to retain the freshness and flavor potency.
  8. Serve with mock sour cream (recipe below) or real dairy sour cream and crusty sourdough bread. Leftovers reheat well. Serves 8-10.

Mock Sour Cream

In food processor blend until smooth: 
12 ounces Mori-Nu Silken firm tofu
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1/2 tsp salt

Friday, December 21, 2012


Cioppino is seafood comfort food.  While the name may impart notions of complicated haute cuisine technique, the reality of preparation could hardly be more simple. Traditionally this is a fish stew made from the catch of the day,where the fishermen's extra bits were tossed into a wine and tomato based stock, served shells and all with a thick piece of bread to sop up every drip of the tasty stock.

Since we do not have the luxury of standing dockside, our version relies on what we can afford from the supermarket, which typically comes flash frozen in our part of the country. Even with these limitations, this cioppino really hits the spot, no matter which combination of seafood bits we can find to fill the pot. Leftovers...well, I wouldn't know what you do with those, we never have had any, but I'm sure they would reheat well on low.

1/2 cup margarine
2 onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5 ounce cans stewed tomatoes
4 cups water
3 Tablespoons Better than Bouillon No Chicken Base
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon basil (dried or fresh) chopped
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 cup clam juice
1 1/2 cup white wine

Seafood of your choice (but this is what we can usually get):
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and  deveined
1 1/2 pounds bay scallops
1 1/2 pounds crabmeat
1 1/2 pounds cod fillets, cubed
may also add 18 small clams and/or mussels, cleaned and debearded

In a large stockpot over medium heat saute onions and garlic in margarine until soft.  Add tomatoes, breaking up chunks as possible, and all remaining ingredients except the seafood to the pot.  Cover and simmer on low to bring flavors together for approximately 30 minutes.  Increase heat and add the seafood, bringing the pot to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 5-7 minutes until clams open and seafood is cooked through.

Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a warm crusty bread.  Makes 8-12 large servings.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cream(less) Mushroom & Wild Rice Soup

This vegan version of cream of mushroom and wild rice soup is based on the recipe recently published in Cooks Illustrated magazine January/February 2013. I love their scientific approach to cooking and have learned a great deal from the techniques and tips they publish. I highly recommend a subscription especially if, like me, you like to experiment since they go to great lengths to test and document what worked, what didn't, and why.

Honestly, I am not a big mushroom fan but for some reason as winter is setting in, I thought this soup looked mighty satisfying and it seemed the recipe might be easy to convert to vegan. Turned out I was right and the entire family agreed, so it has earned its place on the blog simply because everyone voted that they would like to eat it again. So here it is, my vegan version of Cook's Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup.

4 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 cup wild rice

Heat oven to 375-degrees. Combine all the above ingredients except rice in a medium-sized oven safe saucepan and heat on top of stove to a boil. Add rice and return to boil, cover pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 35-50 minutes until rice is tender.

4 Tablespoons margarine
1 1/2 pounds cremini/button/baby bella mushrooms mixed, trimmed and sliced
4-5 medium shallots or 1 small onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2/3 cup dry sherry
1/4 ounce dried shitake or oyster mushrooms, ground fine using spice blender
6 cups water
2 Tablespoons Better than Bouillon No Chicken Base
1 cup almond milk
1/4 cup non-dairy creamer
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup minced fresh chives/parsley or both
Squeeze of fresh lemon

While the rice cooks, melt margarine in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Saute shallots and garlic, and add mushrooms with tomato paste until a fond begins to form on the bottom of the pan. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and soy sauce, scraping the fond from the bottom of the pan and simmer, reducing the liquid until the pan is nearly dry.

Remove from heat to wait for rice to finish cooking. When rice is cooked, strain excess liquid into soup, reserving rice (discard the bay leaf.) Add the ground mushrooms, water, Better than Bouillon, and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add almond milk. In a small bowl mix the non-dairy creamer and corn starch together until no lumps are visible. Add the rice and cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add green herbs and a squeeze of lemon. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a crusty, hearty bread.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Vegan Fudge

A gal needs her chocolate fix; at least this gal does - and this fudge delivers!  Quick to whip up in just minutes, (okay, it takes an hour to set up in the fridge...but there's always the spoon and bowl to 'clean up' while you wait) this sweet treat seems to disappear at our house just about as fast as we can make it. Vegan fudge is another recipe from my mother-in-law who makes this regularly for us during the holiday season; usually with a choice of nuts, either walnut or pistachio, but pecans or even peanuts are equally tasty. Of course the kids' favorite is without nuts entirely, which is mighty good too!

4 cups (1 pound) powdered sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup soy/almond/rice milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup chopped nuts of choice

In large microwave-safe bowl combine powered sugar, cocoa, and salt.  Stir in milk and vanilla, mix well.  Slice the margarine into thin pieces and place across the top of the mixture. Microwave on high (100%) for three minutes.  Beat with mixer or wire whisk until smooth; stir in nuts.  Spread in buttered square baking pan.

Alternatively, reserve half the nut mixture prior to incorporating into the fudge to press the reserves into the top of the fudge for a more impressive nutty appearance.

Refrigerate one hour or until firm. Store in refrigerator.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Chocolate Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have a cookbook philosophy (okay I have a philosophy about almost everything....) which I have proudly passed down to my children: cookbooks are for writing in!  In fact my books increase in value with every scribble that is added. Since I tend to stray from recipes as they are written, if I have any hope of recreating the dish, I need to make notes; the more detailed the better since I am not as young as I used to be!  Secondly, I need to know if I have made something before if it was any good or not, the last thing I want to do is repeat a disaster.

The recipe for the cookies pictured here is based on one published in Cookies! A Cookie Lover's Collection, a cookbook I have turned to so many times that the binding is now giving out.  Well over half the pages have notations and some are fabulous, like this one left by my teenage daughter on the 'Chocolate Brownie Cookies' page:
NOT GOOD.  Funny Taste.  Dry - not only does the cookie taste like sawdust, but the batter tastes like Play-Doh. 
Needless to say, I did not use that recipe for theses delicious cookies!  The note made me chuckle, proud to be passing on my love for cooking and the moxie to call it like it is (and document it just that way!)

These chocolate/chocolate chip cookies were a huge hit with the men in the family because they are loaded with chopped walnuts.  While they have the classic drop cookie texture, the cookie dough is not 'death-by-chocolate' rich, something we happened to appreciate once in a while since that means you can eat one or two more. Nearly any combination of chocolate chips can be used but the ones pictured here were milk chocolate and "everyone loved them" which is exactly what I wrote at the bottom of the page!

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips, any combination of white, milk, or dark
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a stand mixer combine sugars and butter and mix on medium speed until light colored, add eggs, and vanilla mixing until well-blended.On low speed, carefully add flour cocoa, baking soda, and salt, until a soft dough forms. Stir in chips and walnuts. 
Using a 2 Tablespoon ice cream scoop, measure dough and drop onto baking sheet approximately 3 inches apart.
Bake for 9-11 minutes or until the middles are set and no longer appear wet. Allow to cool one minute before removing from the pan. Cool completely on wire rack and store in air tight container.
Best served with a nice tall glass of milk.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sesame Noodle

This is one of those dishes you can whip up in the time it takes to heat the water and cook the noodles; that alone makes it noteworthy enough to blog about. With the addition of tahini (a personal favorite of mine) this vegan dish hits those satisfaction and health-nut marks high,  providing not only a shot of protein and fiber, but many other nutrients including calcium and the healthy fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6. The crunch of raw vegetables enhance the dish but I find the noodles satisfying on their own, so don't let an empty veggie drawer keep you from trying this dish. For a kick of heat, add a hot chili oil at the table.

1 pound package spaghetti
1/3 cup tahini
2 Tablespoons honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup Mirin, sweet rice wine
2 teaspoons Thai chili sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup green onion, sliced
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

1 cup vegetables of your choice: red pepper, carrots, cucumber, red onion julienned (all optional)

  1. In a large pan, cook spaghetti as directed on package just to al dente.
  2. In medium-sized bowl whisk together tahini, honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar, Mirin, chili sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic.  
  3. Toss with hot spaghetti, add in green onions and vegetables, top with toasted sesame seeds. Salt to taste.
  4. Serve warm or cold.

Blueberry French Toast

We love breakfast casseroles at our house since they tend to feed many with very little effort. This one is always a hit with guests and a favorite of ours because it is so easy to make. Served with a side of sausage or bacon, this bread pudding is a perfect addition to any brunch buffet. The leftovers are even more fabulous the next morning fried over medium heat in butter on both sides until heated through.

12 slices day-old bread, cut into 1-inch squares
2 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
12 eggs
2 cups milk
1/3 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Layer half of the bread cubes into the bottom, evenly distribute the cream cheese over the bread. Top with the remaining blueberries and bread.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs with milk, honey, and salt. Pour over the bread mixture. Press the bread cubes down into the wet milk mixture until all chunks are submerged.  
  3. Cover and chill for two hours or overnight.
  4. Bake the french toast at 350 degrees covered for 45 minutes, uncover and bake an additional 25-30 minutes until it's puffed in the center and golden brown. 
  5. Serve topped with blueberry sauce (below).
Blueberry Sauce

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cup cold water
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tablespoons butter

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add cold water and mix well.  Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil, stirring constantly for 3 minutes or until the color changes from opaque to clear. Stir in blueberries, reduce heat and simmer another 8-10 minutes until blueberries burst, remove from heat and stir in butter. Serve over warm Blueberry French Toast.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Kibbeh is a delicious Lebanese dish somewhat similar to American meatloaf in that the meat is extended to feed more by adding a grain. Unlike American meatloaf where bread or cracker crumbs are used (and soak up those great meat juices) Kibbeh relies on whole grain wheat in the form of bulghur. Bulghur is chopped and roasted whole wheat and can be found at finer grocery stores, ethnic markets, cooperatives, and specialty stores all around the country. The addition of whole grain gives the dish an ethnic flare, but the flavors are not so pronounced or unusual as to turn off the average ‘Meat and Potatoes’ American. Serve Kibbeh with any vegetable side dish of your choice, but always with a dollop of plain yoghurt, since the tartness of the yoghurt is the absolute perfect accompaniment. Kibbeh is a clever way to sneak whole grains into the family diet, but it also great for family gatherings since it travels well, can be made ahead, and is equally good hot out of the oven or at room temperature.


3 oz. unsalted butter
3 1/2 oz. pine nuts
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 lb. lean beef or lamb  
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2  teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
3/4 to 1 teaspoon sea salt

Over medium-low heat in a large, shallow fry pan, melt butter and add pine nuts.  Stir constantly until pine nuts are golden brown, do not leave unattended, as pine nuts are easy to burn. Remove from pan and set aside.
Increase heat to medium and add onion to pan with the residual butter and cook just until soft and transparent.  Add the lean ground meat, being sure to break up any lumps and cook just until no longer pink.  Remove from the heat, season with cinnamon, allspice, pepper and salt to taste.  Stir in the pine nuts.  Allow filling to cool in pan.


2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
2 lbs. ground chuck or ground lamb
14 oz. fine burghul (chopped and roasted whole wheat)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt

¼ cup cold butter, sliced thin

small bowl of water

  1. Preheat oven to 400º F.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, add the burghul and cover with cold water and carefully pour off to rinse, repeat. Wash the wheat 2-3 times in this manner being careful not to pour out the burghul with the excess water. On the last rinse, pour off as much water as possible and squeeze out the excess water by hand, reserving as much of the burghul as possible.
  3. Add the raw ground meat, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, salt and water. Mix together by hand, then run the mixture through a meat grinder with a medium hole grinder plate once or twice.  Alternatively use a food processor in small batches to thoroughly integrate the bulghur into the rmeat, be careful not to over process and turn the mixture to paste.  
  4. Grease the sides and bottom of a deep 12” diameter round pizza pan with butter or non-stick spray. Alternatively, a 9”x13” baking dish can be used.
  5. The recipe is assembled in three layers: a bottom layer of kibbeh, a middle section of stuffing, and a top layer of kibbeh. To begin, divide the kibbeh mixture into two equal parts.

  6. Layer 1: The raw meat is easier to work with wet hands, so moisten hand and begin to layer in the first half of the kibbeh mixture into the bottom of the greased pan. It works well to flatten small pieces gently between your palms to about ½-inch thick, overlapping sections a bit until the entire bottom of the pan is covered. Smooth the top of the mixture with wet hands to create an even layer.

    Layer 2: Spread the stuffing evenly over the bottom layer of kibbeh.

    Layer 3: Flatten and lay pieces of kibbeh on top of the stuffing in the same fashion as the bottom of the pan. The top layer will take a bit more effort since the stuffing creates a more uneven surface, so use wet hands to create as smooth a top layer as possible.

  7. Cut the pie into quarters, use a sharp knife to make shallow incisions through the meat, to goal is to score the kibbeh in a geometric pattern creating either diamonds or squares in a decorative manner; this makes the presentation more appealing, but also allows the butter to penetrate through to the lower layers as it melts.  Prior to placing in the oven, evenly place the sliced butter over the top of the kibbeh. At this point the kibbeh can be refrigerated and cooked later, bring to room temperature before baking or increase bake time as needed.
  8. Bake at 400° for 30 to 40 minutes in the middle of the oven.  Kibbeh should have a rich brown top when done, if the meat has pulled away from the sides of the dish and it is bubbly but the top is not yet browned, place it under the broiler to enhance the color a bit, but be careful not to burn it.
  9. Serve warm or at room temperature with a side of labneh, Arabic yoghurt (plain Greek yoghurt is delicious too.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pad Thai

Sweet and sour, spicy and fresh, few dishes pack a flavor punch like pad thai! The garnishes alone are a symphony of textures and flavor; fresh cilantro and green onion, salty peanuts and crispy bean sprouts, all accented with a squeeze of bright lime; it is easy to see how pad thai is right at the top of my favorites list.  Make no mistake, this is a time consuming recipe to prep, but it comes together in only a few minutes of actual cook time. While traditional pad thai would have the addition of egg and use fish sauce instead of oyster like our version, we have made slight modifications due to dietary restrictions. The dish suffers very little because of these substitutions and has become a huge favorite of ours. The recipe as written here makes 8-10 large servings.


5 Tablespoons tamarind paste
2 ¼ cups water
½ cup oyster sauce
2 ½ Tablespoons rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper*
3 Tablespoons sesame/vegetable oil

Re-hydrate tamarind paste by bringing water and tamarind to a boil in a small sauce pan.  Allow to boil for 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat and steep at least 10 minutes.  Push the pulp and water through a mesh strainer until only the tamarind seeds remain, discard seeds.  In a small mixing bowl combine strained tamarind with all the remaining sauce ingredients, set aside. *Taste the sauce to test for heat, add more cayenne pepper if more spice is desired, hold back on the cayenne if heat-sensitive.


20 oz dried rice noodles (width of linguine)
32 oz medium/large shrimp , cleaned, peeled, deveined
2 Tablespoons sesame/vegetable oil
2 ½ Tablespoons garlic, minced
½ cup shallot (may substitute yellow onion), chopped fine
1 cup peanuts, chopped
6 cups bean sprouts
12 green onions, white and top greens, sliced thin
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only, chopped
Lime wedges for serving

  1. Soak noodles in warm tap water, until pliable and limp about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside.
  2. In large skillet heat oil over high, add shrimp and cook just until opaque. Transfer to plate and set aside.
  3. In remaining shrimp liquid/oil in hot skillet, sauté garlic and shallot/onions until cooked through. Add noodles and toss to coat.
  4. Pour sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high and toss constantly until noodles are evenly coated and cooked through, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add shrimp to heat through, remove from heat and add green onion and bean sprouts.  Garnish with cilantro and peanuts at table and pass lime wedges.
  6. Serve immediately and invite enough friends to consume the entire batch, pad thai does not reheat well.