Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Adventures of Huckleberry Elf

We begin a series of titles for our little bloggery that focus on great literature…those of us who live in Mississippi will understand this attention on our reading habits (or not) as of late. Those who do not live in this oft-maligned state need only know that a recent remark by a very famous author about Mississippians and our literari-ness left us with raised hackles.
Well, we are FINALLY seeing a light at the end of the remodeling tunnel here in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen!! And BOY HOWDY are we GLAD on an ELFIN scale. We have been doin’ the best we can with the chaos but enough is enough! We LOVE the new look (and we’ll share pics next week) and have taken some steps to de-clutter our clutteriness. Even though we HAVE cooked some during this week, we wanted to focus on one particular recipe because it was good and there are a few warts. We are sharing the link to the recipe but be forewarned that the person walking through the recipe (John Joseph) uses some profanity and phrases that can be/are pretty offensive. Be also advised that you may have to watch a commercial first.
The dish is a vegan lasagna, so nothing new or revolutionary about that. However, the intriguing component, to your Elf, was the sauce. We’d never seen sauce prepared with the ingredients he uses as well as the ingredients he did NOT use. And, this recipe makes a seriously LARGE pan of lasagna so feel free to half it or use smaller pans to have one (or two) to freeze. First, we melted some vegan butter and a little EVOO together
then added some of the most unusual ingredients for Italian cooking we’ve ever seen. We found a shot glass to put our spices in and it actually made a pretty nice picture. From the bottom up, we had turmeric, cumin, mustard seeds, sea salt and red pepper flakes.
These spices were added to the heated oil and allowed to bloom with the heat.
As soon as the mustard seeds began to pop, we added a can of Fire-Roasted tomatoes AND a fourth cup of BLACKSTRAP MOLASSES!!
Now, in the video, John uses fresh Roma tomatoes but frankly, we like the Fire-Roasted just as well and a can is a lot easier to open and pour. That got all stirred up and heated. Next up, we added some Italian herbs such as oregano, basil, and thyme and let them open up their flavors.
THEN, we added 10 (YEP TEN) cups of an organic vegan pasta sauce, turned down the heat and let that simmer for about 30 minutes.
Your Elf has made many a pasta/spaghetti/marinara sauce in her lengthening lifetime but this was a first. NO GARLIC, NO ONION, NO MUSHROOMS. But you have to admit, it’s really pretty! While the sauce was simmering, we steamed two broccoli crowns and two zucchinis until they were crisp tender. Poured them into a bowl and used our “Subway Chopped Salad Chopper” to, well, chop 'em up. SEE!
Next time, we will use an additional broccoli crown as this layer tends to cook down. Anyway, we set this aside and started on yet another layer…the ‘meat’ layer. We used two bags of Boca Crumbles and browned them. THEN we added the ricotta we made from scratch the day before, compliments of The Minimalist Baker.
We squished all this up, along with some Daiya Mozzarella shreds and set aside.
A word about the ricotta, it turned out quite nicely but we know what we will do differently next time. First of all, we will add more lemon juice and a wee bit more water. AND most certainly some herbs such as basil or oregano. We chose NOT to add herbs for this batch as we did not want to be too ‘herbally tasting’ when everything was cooked. We will also add more nutritional yeast…that really will boost the cheesy taste. The additional fresh lemon will help with more tartness and the water will help with blending it more smoothly. In any event, in the video, you are advised to get the Kite Hill Ricotta (3 tubs of it at a hefty price tag). First of all, we couldn’t find the Kite Hill Ricotta at Whole Paycheck, oops, Foods and second of all, we really didn’t want to blow an entire week’s food budget on a dish that may or may not work!!
Ok, here’s where we got off the rails a bit; we got so excited about putting all the layers together, we FORGOT to take pictures…damn! What we DO have is the next to final layer..first layer was lasagna noodles and the ‘meat’/mozzarella mixture, then a good layering of sauce. And BY THE WAY…the sauce is DELICIOUS!! Then another layer of noodles topped by the steamed and chopped veggies AND we opted for a big bunch of power greens instead of ‘just’ spinach. That was topped with more sauce!
The final layer was more noodles and sauce. We then covered the pan(s) with heavy duty foil and baked for an hour in a 350º convection oven. In the video, John suggests 350º to 375º oven, so we figured the lower end with the convection running would be about right. Well, that’s a yes and no…we’ll address that later. After an hour, we took the pans out of the oven, took off the foil added some Daiya Mozzarella shreds and returned to the oven for about 15 minutes, as instructed. Well, we had a final picture but for the LIFE of Your Elf, we cannot get it to load, so you'll just have to settle for a final verdict. We will also post the picture on our Elf Facebook page so you can at least refer to it.
First of all, the flavors, for the most part are wonderful. The sauce, we swear, is beyond what we imagined it would be with the rather odd line-up of ingredients. We can only predict that it will freeze well as we did have some left over. It is a hefty meal that can be paired with some good garlic bread and a salad for a true feast. Now, for the ‘warts’ and there were some, easily correctable but if you know at the get-go, you won’t have to deal with them. In the video, John says you do not have to pre-cook the lasagna noodles but just rinse them off. We actually soaked ours for about 5 minutes in warm water before placing them in the pan. The middle layer of noodles did just fine…however, the bottom and top layer did not. They were on the chewier side of chewy and we were not pleased; and the top layer was really tough. That’s where we think the convection option may have played a role…maybe we should have cooked at a lower temperature. So, what we will most likely do is pre-cook the noodles (really al denté) and not use the convection option. Secondly, as much as we LOVE the Daiya block cheddar cheese, their Mozzarella just doesn’t give you the a great mozzarella taste or a cheese-worthy melt. Bottom line, we wound up removing the top/bottom noodles and then enjoyed the hell out of it. Even Big Solid said he thought the flavors were good…notably absent was “OH MAN, THIS IS AWESOME!” But for a man who does not like Lasagna to begin with, this is progress.
Our final picture is of a great Moroccan Red Lentil soup…this is one of our favorite soups as it’s full of goodness and LOTS of kick.
Here's the link.
We were out of HARISSA, which we ALWAYS add, so we used BERBERE—slightly different but still a powerhouse spice blend.
We anticipate that this new week ahead will find us BACK at home in our Kinky Elfery Kitchen, cookin’ up a storm. OH!! We almost forgot…we discovered last week that our beloved Cusinart Food Processor was one of the models recalled for a potentially hazardous blade! We also understand that replacement blades have been woefully, repeat, WOEFULLY, long in being sent out. Well, we cannot do without the Food Processor, so it stands to reason to…what? BUY A NEW ONE!! So, we are expecting little to no slowdown in cookery as of Monday when the new one is arriving!! YOWZA!!
And that’s our Elfin wordiness for this week. We look forward to talking with y’all again soon but in the meantime remember always to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.’ DO EPIC and evil will never win!

Your Elf

Sunday, October 15, 2017

One Flew Over the Elf's Nest -- Part Deux

Since we are still bewitched, bothered and bewildered in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen with NOTHING IN ITS PLACE YET, we've been woefully inept at cookery this week. So, we thought we'd revisit an Elfin blog from 2015 roughly a year ago (published 10/20/15). Enjoy...we had fun readin' our old stuffs!
Well, we have to make up for lost time as we did not present you with a blogalicious entry last week. So, we’ll do out best to entertain you today. We’ve been in kind of a cooking slump, doldrum, recession, lurch, droop and/or sag lately and the past couple of weeks are no exception. HOWSOMEVER, we have also been focused on baking stuffs to sell and raise money for our MOST FAVORITE ANIMAL SHELTER, The Animal Rescue Fund of MS (ARF/MS). So, maybe those offset each other. So let’s look back at the past week and see what and who The Elf has been lollygagging around with.The MOST fun thing was getting this really awesome apron from my brother, Jud and his Sweetie Suzanne.
Isn’t it cool? The other cool thing in this picture is the bottle of Butter flavor EVOO from J Olive—rapidly becoming one of The Elf’s favorite stores.
  Big Solid Elf-boy has been hankerin’ for soup as the days get a bit cooler (and then a bit warmer as we EVER-SO-SLOWLY-TRANSITION-TO-FALL!) Seems like one day it’s seasonably cool and the next we are in the 90’s.
Anywho, we made one of our favorite recipes from my most excellent resource buddy, Susan Voisin and her awesome site/blog FatFree Vegan Kitchen.
It’s a wonderful soup called Brussels sprouts and Shiitake Mushroom Soup.
You know, a few years back, when The Elf and BSE (Big Solid Elf-boy) were still learnin’ each other’s culinary do’s and don’ts, the phrase Brussels Sprouts was pretty much taboo—that being a ‘don’t from BSE. NO MORE…he is now a big fan and it was this soup that helped propel him into an ‘attaboy’ with his vegetable eatin’ insight. So, we first sautéed up some onions
while we roasted some Brussels sprouts
added some shiitake mushrooms along with some sliced portabellas we needed to use or lose.
Next up we simmered all this and some brown rice in a rich simmering broth (The Gentle Chef’s Porq simmering broth)
and wound up with a delightfully delicious, filling and very nutritionally sound soup.  

We’d also seen a really yummy sounding idea for savory roasted sweet potatoes online, so we tried those out as a side dish. The Elf sliced her onions a bit too thin and they got really crispy instead of well-done BUT that actually added a bit of intensity.
There are a couple of options here…you can either check out and possibly join The Gentle Chef’s Facebook page where he gives some recipes out (this being one of them).
OR google ‘savory roasted sweet potatoes’ for lots of ideas. Just remember to be alert to ingredients that may NOT be vegan (e.g., butter) if you go the google route.
And no week at The Elf’s house/kitchen is complete without at least one recipe of Chikun Shreds that we adore.
The Elf takes them to restaurants with her to add protein and substance to salads.
One of our GO-TO meals, when The Elf has failed to find anything appealing or doable in 30 minutes is a Tofu Scramble and this week was no exception. Thankfully, blocks of tofu (primarily Nasoya Organic NonGMO extra firm) occupy a considerable portion of the ‘meat’ drawer of the fridge, so we always have it on hand. AND the addition of the GOTTAHAVEIT Tofu Press makes squeezin’ the water out of the tofu a breeze.
So, we just gathered up all the veggies in the fridge that needed a body to fuel, put them in a plastic Ziploc bag and drizzled some Harissa infused EVOO from J Olive over them. Then we got the skillet REALLY REALLY hot and seared them to get a nice crust, added the squished up tofu, some more spices (powdered Harissa, turmeric and a bit of black salt to give it an eggy flavor) and voila! SUPPER.

Our new elf-fort of the week was again from The Gentle Chef’s Seitan and Beyond Cookbook called Grillin’ Burgers. We have a ‘burger night’ at least once a week and have primarily depended on The Simple Truth vegan burgers you can find at Kroger. They are good, convenient and all you do is cook ‘em up. But, we’ve been wanting to try a homemade burger and this looked like a good find. It’s somewhat labor intensive but well worth it as you get 6 decent sized burgers that you can freeze in pairs for 3 weeks’ worth of ‘burger nights’. We don’t do links to Chef Skye Michael Conroy’s recipes or copy them as they are proprietary. He has been gracious to give us permission from time to time to post (i.e., Bacun 5/10/15 blog) but we’d never post without his consent. As you can see, the burger LOOKS like a burger and tastes really good. The Elf will need to work on her technique to get a bit softer consistency but that just means we get to try them again and eat them likewise.

Last night, we had our first Vestal Vegan night in a long time and this time it was an expanded version. Our little group of 4 gals who have had a blast cooking vegan stuffs decided it was time to expand, so we did. And it was SO much fun. Pictured is Seitan ala Teronja from The Elf,
Savory Sweet Potato Balls from Misty, a marvelous pesto dip from Laura, Chocolate/Cream Cheese Monkey Bread from TE.
Not pictured, primarily because it was gone before the camera had a chance to capture it, was Gigi’s Guacamole (Holy Mouthgasms!). The evening was so fun but bittersweet as Gigi Carter (founding member and vegan supreme) and her husband, Kevin, are moving later on in the year. We are figuring out how to have ONE MORE VEGAN night before they get away. Here are Gigi (left) and Misty.
And, GOSH…that’s it! Glad to get caught up on the kinky Elfery cookery.
As October winds its way toward Halloween, Annie wishes to remind everyone that it IS Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Awareness covers so much territory…but in the mind of The Elf, prevention is a key. Prevention being many things—such as, doing your homework understanding that a plant-based diet is a huge factor in the prevention of cancers; self-examination to detect any abnormality early; yearly mammograms; and limiting alcohol intake to name a few. It was early detection that probably saved The Elf from a world of hurt. And, recognizing also that sometimes no matter what we do, cancer happens..then awareness goes in a multitude of directions. There are resources galore out there and again, do your homework to choose the best resource for you.
And as always, until next time, remember to breathe deep, laugh a lot, eat plants, love life, and (a new one) DO EPIC!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Keep Your Friends Close, but Your Elf Closer

And so we begin yet another week in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen! BUT WAIT!! The kitchen is in complete disarray…dare we say chaos! YES! We are remodeling the KEK which has resulted in removal of all appliances, drawers, contents of drawers, spices, shelf stuffs, pots, pans, dishes, glasses…EVERYTHING. This is what our dining room looks like.

And that’s just the beginning. So, this will be a brief bloggery since we’ve not done much in the way of Elfin cooking all week…and it appears that this week will also be a very slow one. Baked potatoes will pretty much rule as we wait for the final piece of the new kitchen puzzle to be placed. That would be the cabinets, whose doors have been removed and the drawers, that have been emptied. They will be sanded down, painted and returned in the next week AND the fixed cabinetry will also be sanded and painted. One side view
and across the kitchen.
You can already see the new wall color…Highland Grey. It’s beautiful!! Can’t wait to show you the finished work!!

NOW..we do have a few things cookery-wise to share. First is one of our MOST favorite soups EVER that we made last Sunday. The recipe is called “10 Spice Soup” from the wonderful Plant-based cookbook, Oh She Glows by Angela Liddon. Here’s the link but we highly recommend this book as a worthy purchase.
That being said, we have, of course, tweaked it a bit by adding an ELEVENTH spice (Harissa, a fiery pepper based spice used in Tunisian and Moroccan cuisines). The soup recipe also includes the recipe for making the 10 (or 11) spice mix and while it may take a bit of time to gather all the ingredients, it is SO worth it. We always DOUBLE the spice recipe and keep in on hand to flavor other dishes. So, considering we’ve made our spice mix, let’s get all up in it! Oh, one more thing…we doubled the recipe as we were cooking for a crowd. We don’t particularly recommend that as your soup pot can get really REALLY FULL! But, as usual, it was ‘ready, fire, aim’ in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen that day! The second time consuming part of this recipe is chopping all the vegetables (onions, bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, celery), but if you enjoy chopping stuffs, it’s fun! So, first off, we sautéed our onions and garlic

added our green pepper, squash, sweet potatoes and carrots

then the fire-roasted tomatoes (juice and all)

then the really yummy cashew cream and plant-based chicken bouillon (The Gentle Chef’s is just the best!!).

We stirred all that up nicely and then came the 11 spice mix.

This comes to a boil and simmers for a while before the final addition of chickpeas and fresh baby spinach leaves.

Cook only until the spinach leaves are wilted and the soup has taken on a golden hue.

This is one of the BEST SOUPS EVER!! And, it freezes quite nicely. As an aside, you’ll notice we mentioned a cashew cream or ‘heavy’ cashew milk. This adds such a lovely creamy texture to the soup without any dairy and you can make it quite easily by soaking raw cashews in warm water for a minimum of two hours or preferably overnight. You place the appropriate measurement into your high-speed blender along with a specified amount of the broth/chicken bouillon and liquify. No need to use a strainer or cheesecloth…just the liquified cashew milk/cream. Now, if you have a tendency to do things at the last minute, like You Know Who, soaking the cashews may be a deterrent. We have learned that you can soak a cup or two of cashews for the recommended time, drain them thoroughly and freeze them on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. That way, you have softened cashews on hand when needed!

We also made a batch of seitan, a plant-based meat analogue that can take on the appearance texture and taste of beef or pork, depending on how you season it. Here you see the seitan simmering in a stock/broth made from molasses, liquid smoke, vegetable broth/chicken bouillon, a gravy enhancer such as Gravy Master, and soy sauce.

It’s important that the low simmer be maintained or the texture of your seitan will be way too soft. After it’s cooked, remove it from the cooking liquid (and it can be frozen for future use) and let it cool before placing in the refrigerator.
It should chill for at least 8 hours before slicing and using however  you wish. It also freezes very well. The other ‘Eureka’ moment for us during this kitchen fruit-basket turnover came when we sautéed some broccoli slaw with some Gardein or Boca Crumbles for a quick and very tasty one pan meal. Seasoned with some sesame oil and really good golden soy sauce, it’s easy and yummy.
LOOK at what Your Elf got this week!! Yep…an Instant Pot. It’s still sitting in the office unwrapped and will remain so until the kitchen is back in place. Thanks to Susan Voisin (FatFree Vegan Kitchen) for her support and suggestion of several Instant Pot sites to join for good recipes and guidance. As we gradually learn how to use this device, we will no doubt have some good stuffs to share.
And finally, whew! Our fasting routine continues; the stress of the remodeling really challenged us this week but we held on and made our Monday and Thursday fasting days. Big Solid’s internist, who he saw this week, said that he was in great shape and was very pleased with his blood pressure. So there you have it…another Elfin week has come and gone. We wish you health and happiness until next Sunday and remember always to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.’ DO EPIC and evil will never win!

Your Elf

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Forever Elf

With apologies to Bob Dylan’s lyrics and Rod Stewart’s voice...Y’all! Yesterday Your Elf turned 71. That’s only 10 in dog years, so we are pretty pumped at this revelation. Our reflections at this event naturally have turned to making sure we maintain our health as these years continue to accelerate. And by health, we mean on all levels…physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Our little bloggery of last week drew a lot of response from our neighbors and people who know Big Solid. We want to share a little more of our journey this week. Big Solid has long been interested in ‘fasting’ as a means of keeping the body functioning at high levels. He’s been his usual investigative self by reading (or listening to) several books detailing the positive aspects of fasting as well as internet research. Two of the links that have been most helpful to us are listed:
As usual, the guidelines, recommendations and suggestions vary wildly, so one just has to decide which would work best for them based on conclusions made from the information gathered. We have selected to 5:2 option which means we will fast two days out of seven. And our fasting days are Monday and Thursday. The science behind the benefits of fasting is more related to the control of insulin rather than weight loss. We’ll encourage y’all to do the research and decide if this is something you’re interested in. Interstingly enough, the November edition of Consumer Reports is chock full of information related to healthy eating AND one of the most compelling articles has to do with the enormous amount of sugar that is consumed and the correlation to obesity and diabetes. If you are a subscriber to Consumer Reports, you have the capability of accessing the magazine online. Otherwise, you are S.O.L. That being said, we encourage folks to read the articles related to eating for some real eye-opening information. While there is acknowlegement that a plant-based diet is a good one, there are still recommendations related to animal product consumption that we just don’t agree with.
One of the books that has been helpful as well to describe the fasting/insulin connection is The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung, a Canadian physician and nephrologist.
We’ve now been on our 5:2 fasting regimen for 3 weeks. And to be completely frank, it takes some getting used to. However, we find ways to occupy our minds and bodies during those times you are accustomed to a meal and it’s gotten easier. We have selected different options for our 500 calorie intake in the evening…which means that we do not piece out our 500 calories all during  the day. Big Solid has a small baked potato with steamed broccoli and shredded cheese: Your Elf is exploring the world of Amy’s Bowls as reviewed in last months Consumer Reports (got some pretty good reviews). Not all of them are vegan, so you have to read the ingredients. Here are those that we have found totally-plant based and well within the 500 calorie limit.
Not only are they nicely done small meals, they taste really good!! One we did not get to photograph (we ate it already) is a Baked Ziti Bowl with Vegan Cheese. LOVED IT! Plus, we have enough calories left to enjoy a toddy or a glass of wine! A couple of things we actually DID cook this week…we made some seitan, which we haven’t done in a while. We did tinker a bit with the Bob’s Red Mill recipe to elevate the taste a bit; but by and large, it turned out beautifully.
We sautéed the seitan in some avocado oil to get a nice crust and set it aside. We then wiped the pan, added then added EVOO to heat. We seared some artichoke hearts and some julienned sun-dried tomato.
Next we added our portabello slices and thinly sliced onions
and finally the sautéed seitan.
At the last minute, we threw in some frozen green peas and let that cook until the peas were just barely done.
Our sauce consisted of a bit of EVOO, freshly squeezed lemon juice and a dash or two of a golden soy sauce. This was served over pasta and lapped right up. Big Solid wanted Daiya shredded cheese on his
while Your Elf stuck with Vegan parmesan. It was so YUMMY!! AND EASY!!

We have some nice recipes to make this week but our time in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen will be a bit limited. We are having some updating going on that will curtail our cookin’ time but we’ll have SOMETHIN’ to show you!!
So, as we plunge headlong in to out 72nd year, we leave you with a shot of Big Solid and Your Elf at our birthday dinner last night. Champagne, a great salad embellished with our plant-based meat analogue chicken shreds, and a hug from Big Solid at our go-to restaurant, Anjou. It was EPIC!
You know the drill, always remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.’ DO EPIC!

Your Elf