Mark Bittman is always almost perfect, as evidenced by this chik’n, lettuce and chive salad

So, do you have Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian? It’s quite the tome, but worth its real estate on the bookshelf. I highly recommend picking up a copy if you don’t have it.

In fact, do you want one of mine? Yes, both my mister’s mother and my little brother purchased this book for me. It really killed me with my little brother — he gave it to me second. You see, he’s not always the most thoughtful little brother. So when he gave me this book for Christmas and told me that he’d looked up all the reviews and decided that this was definitely the best vegetarian cookbook out there, it broke my heart that I already had it. Kid was spot on with this one.

The thing about Bittman is that I find a lot of his recipes to be almost perfect. I love his dishes as jumping off points, but I rarely make them as directed more than once. This salad, for example: it was likely meant as a side salad, was just screaming for some protein to make it a meal salad. That, and the first time I made it as directed, it had way too many chives. Perhaps that is more authentic. But if my mister and I were going to eat it, the chives needed to be seriously cut down.

Anyway. Love you, Bittman. Never change. Except just the teensiest bit.

chik'n, lettuce and chive salad

Chik’n, Lettuce and Chive Salad
Adapted from Lettuce and Chive Salad, Korean Style by Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Serves 4

1/4-1/2 cup sweet chili sauce (you can totally make your own, but I used the bottled stuff)
6 ounces vegetarian “chik’n” bits (Beyond Meat, Quorn tenders, Morningstar strips — I only had time to go to the crummy grocery store so I made do with Morningstar Farms Grillers Chik’n Burgers, sliced) *
cooking spray
4 eggs *
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 – 1/2 crushed red pepper flakes
1 small clove garlic, minced
9 ounces butter lettuce or butter lettuce mix
5 ounces baby spinach
1/2 ounce chives, chopped into 1″ pieces
toasted sesame seeds, to garnish

Put your “chik’n” into a bowl and cover with sweet chili sauce. Let marinate for about a half hour if you can, otherwise just marinate it as long as you can muster while prepping other stuff.

In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, toss your chik’n pieces in. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned and crispy. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

Heat nonstick pan with cooking spray over medium heat. Beat eggs until combined, then dump in the pan. Cook until fairly dry, scraping constantly with a non-metal utensil to break up the eggs and prevent burning or over-cooking. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, stir sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, and garlic until fully combined.

Toss rinsed and dried lettuce(s), spinach, and chives in a large bowl. (A note about the chives: You should have about 1/2 ounce after they’re all trimmed up — if you’re growing your own or buying big farmer’s markety bunches rather than those terrible plastic clam-shelled chives [I know, I know], use a little more to account for the waste that you’re going to chop off the ends.)

Drizzle salad with dressing a little bit at a time until dressed to your preference. You probably won’t have to use it all. Add chik’n and scrambled eggs. Toss the whole dang thing to combine, then shake on some toasted sesame seeds for garnish.

* Vegan notes and substitutions: Obviously, use a vegan chik’n substitute, like Beyond Meat rather than Quorn. Pressed tofu would be great, as well. Omit the eggs, and add some more of your vegan protein to compensate. Alternatively, some roughly chopped peanuts or cashews would be a tasty way to add some more vegan protein.

It’s time to start making vanilla extract for holiday gifts

I’m way behind the times on this one, but I finally remembered far enough ahead this year. I’m making vanilla extract to give as holiday gifts! And, of course, use.

There are instructions all over the internet for this, but the basic idea is: put vanilla beans in some liquor. Let it sit and shake it up sometimes.

homemade vanilla extract

There are some options regarding what type of liquor to use. Vodka produces the cleanest vanilla taste, but bourbon and white rum are popular choices too. I saw a post that suggested using the mini liquor bottles to try different types if you want to compare the differences, which seems like a pretty fabulous idea.

However, for my purposes I decided to use vodka, because a clean vanilla taste is just what I’m looking for. I’d like to be able to use this in anything — basically, to replace store-bought vanilla extract. And I decided to use a big bottle, so I can give it away for holiday gifts, as well as having a lot left to use myself.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

1.75 liter bottle vodka (I used Tito’s Handmade Vodka because it is corn-based, and I have a couple of gluten-intolerant friends, and because I am apparently susceptible to the ads in Readymade Magazine)
8 ounces vanilla beans (I ordered Marky’s Tahitian Vanilla Beans pretty much just because it was eligible for Amazon Prime shipping)

Transfer about two cups of the vodka to a measuring cup.

Using a sharp knife, slice down the middle of each vanilla bean. As you slice them, plop them into the bottle of vodka. I didn’t use the entire half-pound of beans — I saved several for other uses. If you don’t have anything else you want to use them for, just toss them all in.

Using a funnel, pour your reserved vodka back into the bottle until it is full. Find an interesting use for the rest of the vodka. I’m sure you’ll manage.

Put in a cool, dark place. I have it in the basement, next to her cage. Shake it up every few days or so to agitate the beans, and let it infuse for about two months. Feel free to pour off little nips here and there to “test” it, and add more vodka as needed.

So, just before Christmas, I will be straining and decanting them into little bottles to gift, as well as a slightly bigger bottle to use myself. I’ll write an update at that time, I’m sure. Any suggestions for a source for some cute little vanilla-extract-appropriate bottles?

My love letter to Old Bay (eggs in the Bay)

So, I really love Old Bay.

Old Bay Seasoning, invented by a German immigrant to Maryland in the 1940s, is a blend of  (allegedly) eighteen herbs and spices. Buuuut, the only ones listed are: salt, celery seed, spices (including red and black pepper), and paprika. Speculation about the others include bay leaf, mustard, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger. The actual blend is anybody’s guess. The thing is, technically, it’s a crab and shrimp seasoning, which wouldn’t give me a whole lot of reason to use it, seeing as how I don’t eat meat. But… it tastes good on anything. And anyone who lives in or is from Maryland is likely to have one of those distinctive yellow cans in their cabinet.

All that said, I rarely meet people who are not from the Chesapeake Bay region express the same fervor of Marylanders (and specifically, me) for this delicious spice blend. It can’t be for lack of availability: Old Bay was purchased by McCormick in 1990 and they have nationwide distribution, so you can get it anywhere in the United States. But people I’ve met elsewhere generally don’t have it, or if they do, they don’t really use it. My mister’s mother has had the same can in her cabinet for “probably like twenty years,” which is just mind-blowing to me.

Sometimes I feel like an Old Bayvangelist — I tend to talk about it when I travel. I even brought a can to Amsterdam with me. I was there for four or five months, and I knew I’d need it. Although he was skeptical, the exchange student from Utah I met there admitted that the french fries I made him try, dusted generously with Old Bay and sprinkled with malt vinegar, were indeed very tasty.

That’s the thing, though: most of my Old Bay is consumed by being dumped on top of fries. Don’t get me wrong, this is delicious and I will never tire of it. But recently I’ve been thinking that there have to be some healthier ways to consume massive amounts of sodium.

I kept drifting back to a favorite dish of mine from Smitten Kitchen of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s kind of a perfect dish: quick, easy, cheap, tasty, fairly nutritious, and good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The SK version, shakshuka, has an Israeli bent to it, though it’s roots are apparently Libyan. There’s also an Italian version called eggs in purgatory. And of course it bears similarities to huevos rancheros. Versions of this dish just seem to pop up in a bunch of different cultures; this is my contribution to the collection, tweaked to express my heritage. As a Marylander who really, really, loves Old Bay.

So, if you have a can languishing in your cabinet somewhere, here’s a recipe to use it in. If you’ve never thought to buy it or perhaps have never even heard of it, here’s a reason to purchase a can.

eggs in the Bay

Eggs in the Bay
Adapted from Shakshuka by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 2-4

1 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning (low sodium if you have it)
1/2 cup water
4 eggs
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Dump your can of tomatoes (including liquid) into a bowl, or one of those giant measuring cups if you have one. Then squish ‘em up with your hands! Try not to squirt too much tomato juice on your light colored shirt, unlike me. Set aside.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering. Add jalapeno and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened — about 5 minutes. Add Old Bay seasoning and garlic and cook until garlic is soft, stirring frequently — about 2 more minutes.

Pour your tomatoes and the water into your skillet and stir to combine. Lower to medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened — about 18-20 minutes. Give it a taste and add a touch more Old Bay if desired.

Carefully crack each egg into the sauce, evenly distributing them over the surface of the skillet. If you’re not a great egg cracker, you may want to crack them into a small bowl one at a time and pour them in to avoid any errant shell pieces. Cover skillet and cook about 5 minutes, until whites are set and yolks are just set. They’ll continue to cook a little bit once you serve it up, so err on the side of caution. Cut the heat and spoon up some of the tomato sauce to baste the whites with, then sprinkle the surface evenly with cheddar and parsley.

Serve up in bowls with a hearty roll on the side, or on top of a piece of toast. If you’re serving a salad or some other side, one egg per person is sufficient. If it’s the main meal, you’ll probably want two each. If you want to make this for more people, use a large skillet and a 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, and double everything else except for the water.

I’ve been too busy to make anything but this goat brie sandwich

Well, maybe not anything. But for some reason I have been incredibly busy the past week and some change. Shows! (The Mountain Goats, Jens Lekman.) Talks by Important People! (Ira Glass, Bill Clinton.) A Halloween party! (I know, already??) Debate-watching parties! (brb, laughing forever at Joe Biden.)

I just haven’t cooked anything interesting. We’ve gone out or ordered in or my mister has cooked. Even if I had, getting the recipe written up and taking the photos wouldn’t have happened.

However, I did find the time make this sandwich. It’s so easy that it isn’t really a recipe, but I’ll share it with you anyway.

goat brie, honey, and walnut sandwich

Goat Brie, Honey, and Walnut Sandwich

sandwich bread, bagel or baguette
goat brie
walnuts, chopped
honey
butter lettuce, torn

Make a sandwich with the above things. I’m pretty sure you know how to make a sandwich.

Rosemary garlic potatoes soup, instead of binging on french fries

When I found this Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup, I initially set out to make a plain old vegetarian version of it. I figured I’d just omit the sausage and add some smoked paprika, throw in some hearty beans and call it a day. Sounds pretty good, right?

This is not what happened. As I was driving to the grocery store, for some reason I became fixated on the rosemary garlic fries I’ve eaten way too many times at a craft brewery/bar kind of near my ‘hood, the Brewer’s Art. There was nothing I wanted more at that moment than to stuff my face with those rosemary garlic fries.

I took a detour on my way to the grocery store to stop by this house a bunch of my friends live/have lived in. One friend planted a rosemary bush when she lived there; it’s now gigantic, and sadly I think only one current resident actually uses it, so I’ve been welcome to help myself as needed. So, I pilfered several woody, fragrant stalks. I may have received a few strange looks from passers-by for waltzing up to a house and rooting through the bushes, but oh well. It was necessary. For rosemary garlic fun times.

So, this soup isn’t exactly french fries. But that pungent, kick in the face rosemary-garlic combo that I was craving? Oh yeah. (“That’s more garlic than I would eat in a year,” my garlic-averse friend Emily said when I gushed to her about this recipe.)

Aside from the objectively awesome garlic overload (sorry Emily), the antioxidant/vitamin-rich sweet potatoes and spinach, and fiber/protein-filled white beans are an added bonus.

rosemary garlic potatoes soup

Rosemary Garlic Potatoes Soup
Adapted from Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 4-6

4 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 medium onion, chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes
6 cups water
2-3 tablespoons not-poultry seasoning
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed (I used Great Northern, but Cannellini or Navy beans are fine too)
5 ounces fresh baby spinach
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Peel your sweet potatoes. Quarter lengthwise, then slice into 1/4-inch thick slices. Slice up the Yukon gold potatoes the same, but go ahead and leave the skins on.

Heat 2 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic and rosemary and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until fragrant. Remove from pot and set aside. Raise to medium heat, then add remaining oil and onions, then cook for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add sweet and white potatoes potatoes and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften — about 12 minutes.

Add water, not-poultry seasoning, and half of garlic/rosemary mixture to the pot. Bring to a boil and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft — about 20 minutes.

Using potato masher, mash up the potatoes to your preference. Add white beans to pot. Stir in spinach, drop the heat to super low, and cover. Remove from heat as soon as spinach turns a vivid dark green, just a minute or two. Stir in remaining rosemary/garlic mixture. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Not-chicken and dumplings made with Beyond Meat

So, have you heard of Beyond Meat? Despite having possibly the worst name for a faux meat product, it’s been generating a lot of foodie hype. It fooled Mark Bittman! It’s almost being seen less as a food for vegetarians and vegans, and more as a food for omnivores who want to eat less meat for health or environmental reasons but can’t kick the habit. Or even, potentially, added to commercial chicken to stretch it and reduce the environmental impact (think fast food, school lunches — food which is often already stretched with soy but maybe not quite as tasty as Beyond Meat).

With that said, it is indeed vegan — a gluten-free soy protein. And… it shreds. I was skeptical, but it truly does shred just like chicken (I think… it’s been twelve years so you can take that with a grain of salt.) But still, with that texture — so many possibilities! Chicken salad, barbecue chicken, chicken fajitas, the list goes on.

The only problem is, unless you live in the Pacific Northwest or the Rocky Mountain region, it’s not available yet. They’re doing a gradual roll out, and it will eventually be available nationwide. But I live in Baltimore — how did I get it? Well, it was invented in Maryland. So aside from the PNW and Rocky Mountain Whole Foods, it’s also available in a little health food store in Clarksville, Maryland called Roots Market.

My grandmother (not this one) made chicken and dumplings pretty frequently before she passed away. Hers may have been made out of chicken thighs, a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, and Jiffy mix dumplings, but regardless, I get a bit nostalgic for the dish sometimes. I’ve never even attempted a vegetarian version before, but I thought Beyond Meat would be a good one to try it out.

not-chicken and dumplings

Not-Chicken and Dumplings
Adapted from Chicken and Dumplings by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 3-4

Stew
1 pound Beyond Meat™ Chicken-Free Strips
3 tablespoons butter *
1 medium leek , white and light green parts only
1 small onion, minced
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dry sherry
3 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons not-poultry seasoning
2 tablespoons whole milk
 *
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup frozen green peas
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dumplings
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup whole milk *
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter *

Shred the Beyond Meat. I find it easiest to just get in there with your hands — using forks like you might with chicken is a bit difficult.

Cut your leeks in half lengthwise, then rinse very well under cold running water. They tend to be really sandy in between all those layers. Once clean, chop into one inch pieces. Finely mince your onion and shallot and set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter to a large pot over medium heat. Add Beyond Meat and toss until butter is absorbed, just a minute or two. Remove from pot and set aside.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, then add the leeks, onion, and shallot. Add a pinch of salt and toss to combine, then cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the flour, then the sherry. Whisk vigorously to scrape up any browned bits of veggies. Stir in the water, milk, and not-poultry seasoning. Crush the thyme and rosemary with your fingers and throw it in, along with the whole bay leaf.

Add the Beyond Meat, then cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thick and fragrant — about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and discard the bay leaf.

If you want to start this ahead of time for a quick weeknight dinner, now would be the time to pop it in the fridge to continue tomorrow.

Dumpling time! Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Microwave the milk and butter about 1 minute, until just warm. Stir the wet mix into the dry mix with a wooden spoon until just smooth — do not over mix!

Return the stew to a simmer, stir in the peas, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low.

Drop batter in golf-ball-sized dumplings evenly over the top of the soup. The easiest way to do this is to scoop the batter with one spoon, then push it off into the soup — plop! — with another spoon. They should be about a quarter inch apart to allow for the dumplings to grow when they cook.

Once the dumplings are distributed, cover and cook until the dumplings have doubled in size, about 18-20 minutes.

* Vegan substitutions: Your favorite plant based milk and butter substitutes. A soy creamer would be good to add depth to the soup, and olive oil instead of butter would work. For the dumplings, I think rice milk and vegan margarine would be the best bet.

Today’s secret ingredient is… not-poultry seasoning

I know it’s pretty popular to substitute vegetable broth when a recipe calls for chicken broth in order to make it vegetarian. I generally don’t do this; substituting veggie broth sometimes works, but sometimes it just falls a little flat. It’s missing that something, you know?

I prefer to make not-chicken broth by dissolving this seasoning blend in either hot water or even veggie broth, if you have it on hand. Aside from making broth, this mix is also great to toss onto anything that needs an extra flavor boost — it’s a welcome addition to most roasted or sauteed vegetable dishes.

not-poultry seasoning

I found the recipe for this seasoning mix a million years ago (read: probably around 2007) on the open-source UnTurkey website and I have had a jar in my cabinet ever since. Generally, I adapt recipes I use pretty heavily. Not this one. It’s perfect just the way it is. Well, except for the name — Light Yeast Flavoring Powder sounds kind of gross. That’s why the jar in my cabinet is labeled as…

Not-Poultry Seasoning
From Light Yeast Flavoring Powder by UnTurkey.org

1 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

Measure everything into your food processor, reserving about half of the nutritional yeast. (I find starting with only half the yeast makes it easier to break the other spices down.) Process until everything is finely ground, about a minute. Add the rest of the nutritional yeast and process again until flakes are broken down and everything is combined.

Store in a glass jar in a dark, cool cabinet.

Not-Chicken Broth

2 cups water or vegetable broth
1-2 tablespoons Not-Poultry Seasoning, to taste
salt, to taste

Heat water or vegetable broth in the microwave or in a saucepan. Stir in first tablespoon of seasoning until dissolved, then taste to determine if you would like to add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon more. The amount used depends on the recipe the broth is being used for and your personal tastes. And then again, depending on the recipe and your personal tastes, feel free to dissolve in a bit of extra salt.