Sylvan’s Grand Unified Pancake Theory

pancakery

Right around the time I made this blog I embarked upon an important mission:  The quest to create one pancake recipe to rule them all, or at least one that could be my go-to for most of my pancake needs.

Historically I rather suck at pancakery.  For years I used the same recipe, only to find that over time, for reasons unknown, it became less and less satisfying; every time I made it the returns diminished more and more.  Surely, I thought, with dozens of cookbooks and the whole internet at my disposal I could come up with a recipe that was delicious and reliable!

I went through my cookbook library and a ton of vegan food blogs and collected well over a dozen recipes that fit my criteria:

  1. 1 – The recipes all had to use the same general set of ingredients, which had to be easy to find pantry staples, not stuff I’d have to buy special just for pancaking.  
  2. 2 – The recipes had to be for a regular, nonflavored pancake – what you’d call “buttermilk” in omnivorous circles.  If I wanted, say, pumpkin pancakes, I’d have to find a different recipe.
  3. 3 – The recipe had to serve 1 person generously – when I make pancakes I want to EAT SOME DAMN PANCAKES.  In that regard at least I was set; I’m really good with fractions, so sizing a recipe up or down would be easy work.  

I took those dozen recipes and put them in a file in my Paprika app.  I then made a chart of all their ingredients, comparing and contrasting the amounts and any specific recommendations on brand or method.  From this I compiled a single recipe from the chart and started experimenting.

Right away a problem presented itself:  a lot of the recipes had way too much baking powder, which leaves a terrible taste in my mouth.  The first two iterations of the Grand Pancake had at least a teaspoon too much, but I didn’t want to cut it down any more than I had to or the pancakes wouldn’t rise enough.  Pancakery is tricky; you want to get a quick, significant rise without damaging the flavor, and you have to be careful not to overdevelop gluten in the batter and make the cakes tough and chewy.  Leavening balance is key, as is technique – and technique always tended to be where my suckery reared its ugly head.

However, after two more attempts, I found what I believed to be the right balance, and by now, I’ve made this recipe at least six times with tasty, reliable results.  Thus I am prepared to share with you…*drumroll*…the Grand Unified Pancake Theory!!!

I’ll be waiting to hear from the Nobel Committee.

Sylvan's Grand Unified Pancake Theory
Serves 1
A good basic pancake recipe for one person (okay, it's a lot for one person, or a regular amount for two if you're also serving some sort of side dish).
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
25 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
25 min
Dry Ingredients
  1. 1 c all purpose flour
  2. 2 tsp baking powder
  3. 1/2 tsp cinnamon or pie spice
  4. 1/2 tsp salt
Wet Ingredients
  1. 1 c vanilla soy or almond milk
  2. 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  3. 2 T brown sugar
  4. 2 T canola oil
  5. 1 tsp vanilla
Instructions
  1. Combine vinegar and milk in a measuring cup and set aside to curdle for a minute. Meanwhile, set a skillet over medium heat and let it start getting good and hot.
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Be sure to break up any lumps of baking powder or you'll chomp down on one later and it'll be hella gross.
  3. Add the other wet ingredients to the milk mixture and stir to combine. Whisk briskly but for as little time as possible - get most of the lumps out but be careful not to overbeat. Let the batter sit for a couple of minutes while your pan finishes heating up.
  4. Using a ladle or ice cream scoop, pour out a 4" ameba (good luck making a circle) and allow to cook until the whole surface is covered in bubbles and the edges look dry. Flip and cook for the same amount of time. Try not to flip again if you can avoid it - again, it'll make the cakes toughen up.
  5. Remove from the pan, slather with vegan butter, and stack up on a plate. Eat as you are wont to eat pancakes.
Notes
  1. Patience is key when it comes to pancaking. Letting the batter rest for 2 minutes or so before you start cooking will do wonders for your cakes. However, the cardinal rule of pancaking is that the first pancake is probably going to be a dud - it'll burn, it'll be raw in the middle, or something. Hitting the sweet spot of batter thickness and pan temperature usually takes a cake or two. Luckily, dogs love mangled reject pancakes.
  2. You can use any other sweetener you like in place of the brown sugar - regular old white is fine, as is real maple syrup. I find that the brown sugar gives a nice sweetness without being cloying, and the molasses undertone adds depth to the overall flavor profile. It works especially nicely with the cinnamon - which you can also substitute with pumpkin pie spice, "baking" spice like they sell at Penzey's (https://www.penzeys.com/online-catalog/baking-spice/), or something similar. Feel free to leave the spice out entirely if you prefer, but again, it adds a something-something almost too subtle to name but delightful to taste.
  3. Also, use whatever vegetable oil you have in place of canola if need be - just not olive oil or another strongly-flavored oil. I imagine coconut would work too if you're into that sort of thing.
Stumbling Towards Ahimsa http://diannesylvan.com/wp-sta/

Recipe: Vadouvan Aloo Gobi

aloo gobi

Ahhh, Aloo Gobi…the go-to Indian dish for so many vegans.  Who doesn’t love cauliflower and potatoes? (If you don’t, don’t answer that. Let me keep my illusions.)  To me, Indian potato dishes are among the highest culinary expressions of our favorite humble tuber.  

What makes this version of the staid classic take-out dish a little different is the type of “curry” used. In India there’s really no such thing as “curry powder;” people make their own spice mixtures for the most part and even those you buy are as varied as the individual dish for which they are formulated.  Most households have a version of garam masala to which additional spices are added during cooking, often freshly ground for the best flavor and aroma.

Quick vocab lesson:
masala = mixture
garam = warming

Now, Vadouvan is a type of masala that features most of your usual suspects:  cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, mustard seeds, and the like – but it also contains ingredients like garlic and shallots.  Why?  Well, the Pondicherry region of southern India where Vadouvan hails from has a strong French colonial influence, and as you learn in culinary school, French cuisine gets into everything eventually.  

You can of course make your own blend; over here on Fat Free Vegan (home of many marvelous recipes) there’s a version that involves baking the wet ingredients, drying it out, and chunking it up yourself.  Delicious? Hells yeah.  A pain in the butt?  Hells also yeah.  

I generally just buy it by the jar.  For years I was ordering mine from Williams Sonoma – dreadfully overpriced, but amazing.  Eventually though they stopped carrying it and I hoarded my last jar until, unfortunately, it started to lose its aroma and flavor.  Age and heat are two sure-fire spice killers.

Then, during my recent trip to Portland, Oregon, I happened into a Savory Spice Shop, and found a new version.  One whiff of the jar’s contents and I nearly started drooling in the store.  At $9 a bottle it seems a bit steep, but if you read the recipe I linked to above, you know making this stuff is involved and time-consuming, and to me it was totally worth the money.  There’s another blend over at World Spice Merchants I’d like to try, too (and I must say their website is almost painfully beautiful), but for now at least I’m totally sold on Savory’s (plus there’s a Savory shop in Austin!).

Now, as the Savory website says, this masala is best used with lower temperature cooking so the high heat doesn’t destroy all the yummy nummy nuances, but my Aloo Gobi recipe turns out to be just the ticket!

Vadouvan Aloo Gobi
Serves 3
A French-influenced spin on the takeout classic.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 T canola oil
  2. 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  3. 2 T minced fresh ginger (get it in a jar if you can, or use about a 2" knob of fresh)
  4. 2 tsp salt
  5. 2 T Vadouvan masala
  6. 2 large or 3 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2" to 3/4" cubes (large = about 5-6" long; I went with Yukon Gold but use whatever you have around)
  7. 1 bag frozen cauliflower florets or 1 medium-ish head chopped into florets
  8. 1 15oz can crushed tomatoes
  9. 1/4 c water
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil in a large (6 qt or thereabouts) pot. Add onion, ginger, and salt, and cook until onion is translucent, 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add Vadouvan and stir another 2-3 minutes until your whole kitchen smells like Indian heaven.
  3. Add everything else, stir until it's all bright yellow. Cover, lower the heat to just under medium, and cook from 40 minutes to 1 hour; it'll depend on how big your potatoes are cut. Stir frequently to avoid sticking. Serve with basmati rice if desired.
Notes
  1. If you can't get your hands on Vadouvan, that's okay; use whatever Indian spice blend you've got or Google up a mixture that uses what you have in your kitchen.
  2. If you find the cooking time is overlong, start by steaming your potatoes a little in the microwave; either use a steamer bag or cover with plastic wrap, poke a few holes, and nuke for 3-4 minutes. That will get them started, but it's best to do at least some of the cooking in the pot so the tomatoes and spices can be absorbed by the taters as much as possible.
  3. Also, feel free to tinker with the ratio of veggies if you're one of those weirdos with an anti-potato agenda. The dish will be more satisfying with more potato, but the cauliflower gives you lots of lovely fiber and lightens the dish.
Stumbling Towards Ahimsa http://diannesylvan.com/wp-sta/

Recipe Adventure: Vegan French Dip Sandwiches

recipe adventures

Welcome to another regular feature (hopefully) here at Stumbling:  Recipe Adventures, wherein I try a recipe and tell you how it went.  I won’t repost it, obviously, as it’s not my work, but I’ll tell you if I changed anything, what I made to go with it, and any other observations.  

(These will pretty much always be successful and delicious recipes, though I might fail at them epically through no fault of the writer’s, which I will definitely share.  I’m not aiming to snark on all our lovely food bloggers.  I figure it’s a good way to spotlight some great blogs and cookbooks without a lengthy review.)

This week I tried a recipe for Vegan French Dip Sandwiches from Connoisseurus Veg.   

The way to make absolutely sure I’ll try your recipe is to involve sautéed mushrooms.  I can seriously eat an entire carton of mushrooms in one sitting if they’re sliced and cooked in a bit of oil until crusty, salty, and meaty.  

I made this recipe twice this week because the first time wasn’t enough (and I needed to use up the bread).  It’s seriously, seriously good – even though I kind of borked it the second time.

Things I Did Differently to the Recipe:

1 – No onion.  I totally forgot to buy one, so I just skipped that step.  Instead, I added some oven-roasted (the first time) or sautéed (the second time) zucchini to get the added texture, if not the flavor.  I recommend adding them or some other roasted veg to the sandwich regardless – that extra meatiness and heartiness made it even more filling.  But I got lazy the second time and tried sautéing them with the mushrooms, and that just didn’t work – the jus at the end ended up cloudy and way too thick, more of a shit-on-a-shingle situation (which was DELICIOUS, don’t get me wrong, just not what I was going for).  But definitely use the onion – I have no doubt the flavor would be through the roof with awesomeness.

2 – I didn’t use mustard or mayo on my sammiches either (mayo is the devil and all I had was regular yellow mustard, which seemed kind of sacrilegious to me).  I think a good spicy mustard would be a nice addition, though.

3 – I also used sliced baby bellas instead of full on portobello strips; the Target I was shopping at had portobellos but they looked kind of manky.  As flavorful as the sauce is you could probably get by with a regular old white button mushroom if that’s what’s available – just try and get a good sear on the shrooms to make them extra meaty and savory.

4 – I bought a package of “Philly cheesesteak rolls” in the bagged bread section, and slathered/toasted them – but I’d recommend baguette, like she says, or something that you can slice partway through.  The buns I had were fully sliced, and with a sloppy filling like this it works better if you have a little bread buffer to hold it together.

Other Thoughts:

1 – If you’re in a cheesesteak mood, do what I did and reduce the liquid longer so it thickens to less of a jus and more of a sauce; then you could top the whole tasty mess with whatever variety of cheese you like. Definitely go with the melty variety, though, or a cheesy cashew-based sauce over top.  

2 – I originally found this recipe via Pinterest.  I’d never tried any of Connoisseurus Veg’s recipes, but I’ll definitely be back.  I like how it’s lively but not overly cluttered – so many food blogs these days are so loaded with ads and links and crap they’re a headache to browse.  Plus, any vegan food blog with a dinosaur name is more than all right with me!  Try out her Welcome page for favorite recipe recommendations.

 

 

Recipe: No Seriously, There’s Pumpkin in the Chili

chili with an i 2

chili with an iIf you’d told me a decade ago that one day I would put pumpkin in chili, I would have called the cops on you.  But not only is it practically undetectable, it thickens the whole mess beautifully and packs a rather substantial nutritional wallop.  

If you’d rather omit one of the beans and add in a bag of veggie crumble to make it more “bowl of red”-like, feel free. Also, if you’re of a heartier constitution than I am, go for the gusto with canned chipotle chilis; just don’t come crying to me when your face melts off.  

Two-Bean Pumpkin Chili
How to make a gigantic vat of food that will last you a week or better, aka, delicious food for broke-ass vegans. (All can/jar sizes are in the 15-16oz range.)
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
45 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
45 min
Group A
  1. 1 onion, diced (I use yellow)
  2. 3 cl minced garlic
  3. 1 diced red bell pepper
  4. 1 diced green bell pepper
  5. 1 T cumin
  6. 3 T chili powder
  7. 1-2 tsp salt (at least - you'll want to adjust it as you go)
B
  1. 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  2. 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  3. 1 can pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
  4. 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  5. 1 jar (or thereabouts) chipotle salsa or whatever kind your heart desires
C
  1. 1 can corn, drained
Instructions
  1. Saute (A) for 5-7 minutes in a bigass pot until the veggies are soft.
  2. Add (B). Stir well, then cover and cook at a simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Add (C). Stir, then cover and cook 20 minutes more.
  4. Serve with the usual chili accoutrements.
Notes
  1. The original recipe called for 1-2 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce from a can, but those are WAY too hot for me; not to mention, I would end up with most of a can of chilis rotting in my fridge or mummifying in the freezer. (Let's face it, you're never going to use them all.) Using salsa instead gives you a chance to pick whatever heat level you like as well as bringing in the flavor of whatever kind of salsa you prefer - you could go with a green salsa, a smoked flavor, anything you like.
Stumbling Towards Ahimsa http://diannesylvan.com/wp-sta/

Obviously the best way to enjoy such a beast is with a ton of Fritos; you could, I suppose, add terrifying substances like guacamole or sour cream of whatever source you prefer. Like most chili recipes it makes a metric assload, but also like most, it freezes beautifully.

There are other ways to enjoy chili, believe it or not – it’s also quite delicious stuffed into a gigantic baked potato (or sweet potato, nom nom) or over rice or another grain; as I understand it some crazies out there even put it over pasta. You could even make a tamale or shepherd’s pie type thing out of it, if that’s your jam. But don’t serve it with jam. For the love of God.

Ten Favorite Kitchen Items – Food!

Everyone’s got that weird little spice mix or particular variety of noodle they reach for over and over again.  These are ten of the food items I find myself using more than any other – and one gadget I totally forgot to mention last time that is kind of important, whoops.

1. Kosher Salt, and my Salt Cellar

Kosher salt is kind of a no-brainer for the modern cook; you’d be hard pressed to find a cookbook that doesn’t demand it.  Why?  The larger flakes dissolve differently than those tiny little table salt crystals, and if we’re talking sea salt instead of regular kosher, the mineral content can veeeeery subtly affect flavor. I just like the texture of kosher much better in cooking, even though let’s face it, it’s all going to dissolve.  

What I forgot in my last post was this:  The thing I keep my salt in.  It’s handy to have your kosher salt close by and easy to access – obviously using a shaker with the stuff is a problem, and it’s much harder to measure accurately shaking or grinding.  You need something you can both stick your fingers in for a pinch and scoop out of with a measuring spoon. Enter the salt cellar.  They come in a million different varieties, but the one I love most is my Alton Brown model:

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 7.52.02 PM

Made by RSVP, not only does it have a removable bowl (dishwasher safe), the bottom is weighted so you can flip it open without the whole thing flying across the counter.  It’s easy to reach into, keeps dust out of the salt (unlike an open bowl type cellar), and came with an adorable little spoon I have never, ever used.  

2 –  Nasoya Tofu

Easily available at the megamart in an array of styles, this particular tofu is thus far my favorite to cook with.  Nasoya makes both regular and silken tofu, but I haven’t tried their silken yet (regular is what you’d cut into cubes and fry; silken is kind of cream-cheese textured and usually gets blended into stuff).  Their organic extra firm is my fave, and after a night in the freezer and a day in my tofu press it has a truly badass texture.  I want to try their superfirm variety but haven’t seen it at my usual stores – one of these days when I can afford to set foot in Whole Foods or our local food co-op, Wheatsville again, I’ll find some and report back.

3 – Nielsen-Massey Mexican Vanilla Extract

Vanilla is, of course, indispensable in baking.  There are three well-known types:  Madagascar (Bourbon), Tahitian, and Mexican.  Madagascar is the most popular, but Mexican has always been my favorite – there’s something robust and rounded-out about its flavor that I love.  Not to mention I was raised on it; living in Texas means access to a lot of cheap, horribly low quality “vanilla” that probably has a thousand toxic chemicals in it, but also to good quantities of the real thing.  Generally I advise against buying it out of the back of a truck.  But Nielsen-Massey is a well known brand of fabulous quality, and while I use other brands depending on available funds, it’s my favorite.

4 –  Jarred Garlic and Ginger

Lord, we thank Thee for whatever genius decided to sell pre-minced garlic and ginger in jars.  Sure, garlic is cheap and easy enough to smash, but being able to scoop out a spoonful without peeling and mincing is one of those little conveniences that makes a huge difference in my culinary enthusiasm.  I don’t care what the hipster foodies say – not every ingredient needs to be fresh-picked and peeled by hand.  Is it better? Probably.  But it’s not always realistic. When you demand that kind of labor and inconvenience you end up with piles of takeout containers.  Pick your battles, guys.  

Jarred ginger is an even bigger helper.  If you make much Indian food, or Asian of any kind, you need fresh ginger, but you have to peel it, mince it, measure it if it’s called for by the teaspoon (most decent recipes specify a size, like a 1″ knob)…or you can open a jar.  I recommend the jars from The Ginger People, who also make medicinal candies (I keep Gin-Gins on hand for motion sickness – a godsend), jarred sushi ginger, ginger syrups, and crystallized ginger.  

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 8.19.31 PM

5 – Vadouvan Curry Powder from World Spice Merchants

Curry powder is a curiosity to actual Indians. They don’t use it.  It was in fact an invention by the English to try and recapture the flavors of the subcontinent they’d subdued; in India, home cooks make spice mixes from scratch, usually starting with a base of Garam Masala (“warming mixture”) that they then add to.  Even garam masala varies from house to house; everyone’s granny has her own recipe.  But curry blends can be awesome if you get them from dealers that understand the value of fresh spices (as opposed to a can of yellow dust that’s been on the shelf ten years).  I’ll talk about curry and spices more later, of course, but right now, I have to recommend this particular blend.  It’s a bit different from most masalas in that it originated in an area of India with a lot of French immigrants, and often includes dried shallots and herbs in addition to the spices.  

I used to buy mine from Williams-Sonoma, but apparently they quit making it.  Any excuse to visit World Spice Merchants’ gorgeous website is a good one, though.  It’s beautiful, and their selection is amazing.

6 – Gardein Szechuan Beefless Strips

The first Gardein product I tried was their chicken, and I thought it was absolutely gross.  I’m not sure what possessed me to give the “beef” a shot months later; their stuff isn’t cheap by any means, and I was still mad that I’d wasted whatever it was.  Turns out, the beefless beef was a totally different story, and these spicy, sweet-ish, easy and effortless to prepare strips are a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  I eat them at least once a month, and would more often except that 1) I don’t want to get sick of them and b) as I said, they’re not cheap.  But I can make two meals off of them if I add in a bag of frozen Broccoli Normandy mix and some rice, and it ends up being about five bucks a meal, which still isn’t cheap but is way better, and less horrendous, than anything takeout.  Gardein has a crapload of new products coming out in the wake of this year’s ExpoWest – VegNews.com has been posting all the fun new foods over on Instagram.  I’m particularly jazzed about the two-person frozen skillet meals.  Convenience is important, and convenience with a modicum of nutrition is always a welcome sight.

7 – Frozen Bananas

I’m a relative newcomer to the whole frozen-banana “soft serve” craze that flew around Pinterest for a while.  But this past Christmas my mom gave me my Ninja blender, as noted in my last list, and I became a fool for smoothies; obviously I had to at least try the banana thing, since I already had frozen nanners for smoothies.  Holy crap it was tasty!  My favorite combination thus far is frozen bananas, vanilla almond milk, cinnamon, brown sugar, and a bit of vanilla extract.  Om nom slurrrrrp.

8 – Haagen Dazs Sorbet – Raspberry and/or Lemon

You’d think with the proliferation of vegan frozen treats out there I’d have a favorite in one of the dairy-mimicking lines, but no, my favorite nondairy frozen thing is raspberry sorbet (with the Zesty Lemon coming in a face-puckering second place.) In fact, I have a little song I sing when I eat it, thanks to Prince:

She ate raspberry sorbet
The kind you buy at the grocery store
Raspberry sorbet
And once it was gone she’d go buy some more

Yeah, I’m weird.  I also have a taco song, to the tune of the Dreidel song:

Taco taco taco
I made you out of soy
Taco taco taco
You give me taco joy!

And let’s not forget the immortal Choppin’ Broccoli:

9 – Frozen Veggie Mixes, Especially Birdseye’s “Steamfresh”

Me and früzenveg are like *that.*  (So are me and making up silly words like früzenveg.)  Our local grocery chain, HEB, has a great store brand of veggies, but my favorite mixes are still the ones from Birdseye’s Steamfresh line:

Asparagus, White&Gold Corn, Baby Carrots
Broccoli, Cauliflower, & Carrots (aka Broccoli Normandy in other brands.)
Italian Blend
Baby Potato Blend

10 – Soy Sauce.  Any Soy Sauce. Dear God.

A few years ago I started taking lithium as a mood stabilizer, and two things became apparent within the first few days:  One, it made me pee like a racehorse; and two, it made me crave salt like a madwoman.  I’ve always been a salt slut, but Lithium actually sucks salt out of your body (partly due to all that peeing), so they warn you to keep an eye on your intake and make sure you’re getting enough.  Finally a legit medical excuse to eat more salt!  Suddenly I found I wanted soy sauce on EVERYTHING. I’m not a big rice eater, but I’ve discovered one of my favorite things to fill up on when I “don’t have anything to eat” is a bag of früzenveg with a mess of rice soaked in soy sauce (the traditional kind, shoyu; or tamari, which a lot of people favor – I honestly don’t care which).  

I’m sure there are like a dozen other things I forgot to list, but lucky me and lucky you, I have full editorial control over this blog!  MUAHAHA!  LISTS FOREVER!

Recipe: Homemade Limoncello

Limoncello

When life hands you lemons, your only real recourse, other than having life committed for random acts of fruit, is to introduce booze.

I’ve had a book on homemade cordials that I’ve been wanting to delve into for years, but it took a series of coincidences to get me to finally try my hand at liqueur-ing.  My roommate’s friend wound up with ten pounds of lemons (be careful what you click for on home delivery grocery websites), and said roommate decided to make candied lemon peel.  That left her with a ton of lemon leavings – the actual juice, the guts, the less attractive bits of peel.

As luck would have it, I had just saved a Limoncello recipe to my database that very day. Limoncello, a wildly popular lemon liqueur made primarily in southern Italy, is usually way overpriced in stores but dead easy to make at home. Providence!  While she pared down her peels, I squished the leavings into a half-empty bottle of what might just be the shittiest vodka in the universe (we were using it primarily to make perfume).

Homemade Limoncello
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Ingredients
  1. 1 750ml bottle shitty vodka**
  2. 10-12 lemons, cut into chunks
  3. 3 1/2 c water
  4. 2 1/2 c white sugar
Instructions
  1. Place lemon chunks in a pitcher and pour vodka over.
  2. Cover tightly and let sit somewhere cool and safe for one week.
  3. In a saucepan, heat water and sugar until sugar dissolves; simmer 5 min. (This is what is known as a simple syrup - just sugar water, nothing mystical.) Pour syrup over vodka and lemons; stir, cover again and let sit 2 more days to one week.
  4. Strain out bits and chunks; using a funnel, pour into clean, empty bottles. Keep chilled.
Notes
  1. ** - Of course, using better vodka would make a smoother-tasting result. But cordials like this one always seemed to me like the booze equivalent of the casserole - a way to turn less than stellar ingredients into something amazing without a lot of effort or waste.
Stumbling Towards Ahimsa http://diannesylvan.com/wp-sta/

What can you do with it?  Well, in Italy, limoncello is primarily served as a digestivo – an after-dinner cordial, usually chilled.  I like it straight out of the freezer when it’s all slushy, but if you’re not into straight up lemon sugar insanity, you could mix it into a whole host of things.

An Italian Mule – substitute the limoncello for the vodka in any standard Moscow Mule recipe; you could also swap out the lime juice for more lemon, or stick with the lime and go for Mixed Citrus Altogether.

Sparkling Limoncello Cooler (click for recipe) – lime juice and sparkling wine with your cordial is a combination I’ve seen several places, most often using Prosecco.  There are a lot of variations adding other fruits, like sliced strawberries or raspberries.

 Limoncello Sunrise – Like the tequila-based original, this one uses grenadine and orange juice, layered in the glass to look all fancy.

Lemon Meringue Martini – I definitely want to try this one!  Limoncello, whipped cream flavored vodka, half-and-half (I was considering if coconut-based creamer would work well, particularly a vanilla flavor) and some lemonade.

For something a bit fancier, try the Raspberry Basil Limoncello Cocktail; or this lovely looking Tuscan Pear Cocktail with limoncello, ginger liqueur, blood orange juice, and so forth.

Another one I’m anxious to try, since I love PAMA pomegranate liqueur:  Basically shake 4 oz PAMA, 6oz vodka (probably a better one than perfume vodka), and 2oz limoncello with ice and serve martini style (or just drink it out of the shaker, I won’t judge).

And in the non-cocktail arena, Creamy Coconut Limoncello Popsicles!  Oh my Lord they sound amazing, and have only four ingredients.  That’s the nice thing about a citrus liqueur like this one; you can do all sorts of things with it and coconut milk, always a plus for the vegan lush.

Ten Favorite Kitchen Items

While I’m working on an actual recipe to post, I figure, let’s have lists and stuff!  Everybody loves lists.

Here are my kitchen must-haves, part 1:  Non-food items, whether equipment, gadgets, or fun dishware.

These are not big things like knives or pans – to be honest I have shitty cheap Ikea knives, and cookware is one of those things where you buy what you can afford.  I’m not slave to cast iron or any other particular kind of pan.  These things are specific little doohickeys that make cooking easier for me; they’re generally inexpensive and easy to find and use.  Anything that makes cooking more fun or at least less of a chore meal-in-and-meal-out is awesome, whether it’s a big fancy stand mixer or a little silicone bowl.

1. Ninja Master Prep Blender 

Mine is smaller than the one in the picture, but I think it might have been a discontinued model – it was a Christmas gift from my parents, and it totally hooked me on smoothies and frozen banana “soft serve.”  It’s small, lightning fast, and surprisingly quiet – and it can make ice into powder in a few pulses.  Grownup boozy snowcones ahoy!

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2. Tofu XPress

This little baby has enabled me to make truly awesome tofu.  Most bad tofu you’ve eaten probably had a lot to do with how it was prepared.  The best method I’ve found involves freezing the ‘fu and then thawing it (the formation and melting of ice crystals changes the texture), then pressing the heck out of it to get as much water out as possible.  The XPress makes that part effortless – a tension spring does all the work, and you can leave it in the fridge overnight if you want (though it only takes about 30 minutes).  It’s totally dishwasher safe, very important in my world.  It’s kind of pricey for a few pieces of plastic and a spring, but if you eat much tofu (and you will once you figure out how to cook it!) it’s a godsend.  Before the XPress I was doing the traditional “bunch of books on top of a pan on top of tofu wrapped in a kitchen towel” method. Such a pain.

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3. “Write Like a Motherfucker” mug from The Rumpus

 

4. Oxo Good Grips Nylon Flexible Turner (in blueberry)

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Heat resistant up to 400 degrees, dishwasher/nonstick safe, flexible but not floppy – I use this thing for everything.  I should get a second one someday, in fact, just so I can have the pretty green one.  $6.99 on Amazon.

5. Lock & Lock Food Containers

This is another one I owe my mom (and her QVC habit).  I’ve used a lot of food containers but this brand is exactly what they claim to be – you can shake and spin and drop and even through them across the room and not a drop of their contents will leak.  In fact that’s how I marinate my freshly-pressed tofu – cut it up, put it in a Lock & Lock with the marinate, clamp it shut, and shake the shit out of it.  They make sort-of-bento-esque models with removable cups, item specific containers for bulk foods in the pantry, and even a tofu marinating vessel (which I didn’t know about until just now – as soon as I can afford it IT WILL BE MINE).  I don’t have anything like the collection Mom has but I’m definitely a devotee.

6.  Pinch Bowls.

Mise en place, people.  If you really want to cook without stress, you need to learn this idea – it’s French for “everything in place,” and refers to having all your ingredients and equipment prepped and ready before you even start cooking.  The best way to do that employs prep bowls – pre-chop and dice and measure out all your veg and spices and whatever else you need, and have it in bowls around the stove where you can see what you’ve already used and don’t have to stop mid-sauté to chop an onion.  This doesn’t have to involve specialist equipment – any old bowl will do.  But I’m especially fond of little bitty bowls like these adorable silicone numbers; the term “pinch” bowl means of course that you can reach in and grab a pinch of something, but in this case you can also pinch them shut partway so they’ll pour right out.

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7. The Ove Glove

No Ove Glove, no ove love.  Way less awkward than a traditional hot pad, I’ve been using an Ove Glove to take stuff out of the oven since (yes, again) my Mom gave me one for Christmas years back.  It’s made of Nomex and Kevlar, and can stand temps up to 540F.  I have a mild phobia of fire and high heat, so using regular hot pads and mitts made me really uncomfortable – I couldn’t get a good grip on what I was doing, and was always afraid of the pan slipping out of my hand.  I feel a lot more secure using a glove, and as bulky as it looks, it’s actually snug enough that it doesn’t feel like a giant monster paw like a lot of silicone gloves.

8.  Coffee Grinder

Not for coffee.  For spices.  If you’re going to use one for the latter make sure you have a separate one for the former – no matter how well you clean them, the last thing you need is turmeric in your fancy ground coffee.  Trust me, you’re going to want to grind your own spices at least sometimes once we’ve talked about it.  *stern face*  But coffee grinders are magnificent for grinding spices – this cute little KitchenAid number is less than $15, but if you look at a thrift shop or dollar store you can probably one for five dollars.  Before I got one, I used the Punk Rock Piss Off Your Downstairs Neighbor Method – I put my spices in a zippy bag and smashed them with a hammer.  Don’t do that.

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9.  Ziploc Zip’N Steam Cooking Bags

There are some disposable things I’m willing to buy, especially if they’re all that stands between me and just not cooking.  Fact:  I’m never going to buy a steamer.  Actually I think I have one somewhere, but why would I ever boil water when I can just open the microwave?  I love that so many frozen foods now come in steam-in bags, but what do you when you’re starting from raw?  Enter these beauties – specially designed for microwave steaming.  There’s even a chart on the side telling you how long to nuke your bag o’veg.  They’re awesome for potatoes – you can make life a lot easier for yourself by pre-cooking potatoes for a lot of recipes, but again, boiling them is often inconvenient.  There are other brands, these are just the ones I’ve used for years.  They’re recyclable, but not reusable as far as I can tell; there are other less disposable microwave steaming solutions, but I’ve never tried them.  Got one you love?  Let me know in comments.

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Note:  If you’re doing frozen and the bag your food is in isn’t made for steaming, don’t fret.  Set it on a plate, poke a few holes in it with a knife, and nuke it for 4 minutes.  See if it’s done enough, nuke a minute more if needed.  No, really, it can take it – I wouldn’t cook it for 20 minutes or anything, but a quick par-cooking to get the veg ready to do other stuff with won’t melt the bag.

10.  Offset Spatula

Even if you never go near a cake, you need an offset spat.  Anything that involves spreading whether it’s frosting or the top layer of a casserole is infinitely easier to deal with if you don’t have to worry about getting your knuckles in it.  They’re inexpensive, come in several sizes, and will amaze you with their usefulness.  In fact a straight spat is also really cool to have – trust me, they work better than butter knives for smoothing things over.  Spatulas are more flexible, and have the same shape on both sides, so you get an even spread you can’t get from something like a butter knife or rubber spatula that’s blade-shaped.  Angled things are great for getting into the nooks and crannies of a jar or bottle, but straight-sided spats are where it’s at for besmoothing.

Next on Stumbling Towards Ahimsa:  Indispensible Foodstuffs!

I think Indispensible Foodstuffs will be the name of my new band.

Ten Things to Know About Me, Food, & This Blog

Welcome!  You might remember Stumbling Toward Ahimsa as a short-lived recipe blog I had going several years ago; it faded into obscurity before it had even emerged from obscurity.  This new incarnation will serve as a recipe testing ground for my eventual cookbook (as yet untitled), as well as a place for me to talk about food – its history, science, preparation, philosophy, all that happy stuff.

Here are ten important things to know about my food philosophy going in:

1. I’m an ethical vegan, or 90% of one aiming for 98%.  As such there won’t be any animal products in any of my recipes.  This will not be a vegan ranty blog, but I will occasionally talk about it, and it will probably get emotional.  This is something I consider of vital importance and it informs my entire food and cooking life. I can definitely promise no mid-recipe ambushes – I won’t stop midway through to go on about the evils of the dairy industry when you thought you were just learning how to make pudding.  All posts will be as accurately labeled as I can make them.  If I need to tell you why I use a particular ingredient over another for environmental or ethical reasons I’ll put it at the end of the recipe in a note.  AT NO POINT will there be pictures of dead baby animals or other cruelty.  I can point you toward exposés and videos that will show you the horrific reality of factory farming but I’m not going to show that kind of thing here.

2.  I’m anti-diet.  Like, vehemently.  I did write an entire book on the subject, but suffice it to say, you’ll find no Paleo, low-carb, low-fat, “diet” “skinny” “clean” or “raw” stuff here.  I don’t do gluten free – my apologies to those with actual celiac whose serious health condition has been co-opted by the weight cycling industry.  For me veganism is not a weight loss diet, it’s a way of living intended to reduce the suffering my personal choices cause to other beings on this planet and the planet herself.  It’s not about the size of my ass, it’s about the call of my conscience.

The upshot of 1&2:  Pro-diet and anti-vegan comments will be deleted.  I can’t believe I have to actually say this among adults, but:  any kind of hateful or trolling commentary, including “concern trolling”  will be deleted.  This is not a debate blog, and it’s not a democracy.  There are plenty of places out there you can argue as viciously and condescendingly as you like.  This is not one of them.  Here, I am Queen Shit of Fuck Mountain, and I have unilateral control over the delete button.

3. I am lazy.  I don’t make my own vegetable broth from scratch, I don’t cook on Sundays to have food all week.  I’m doing good to plan ahead by a day.  That is actually one of the things I’d like to work on here on the blog – I’d like my cookbook to involve meal planning for singles, cheap lazy people, and others who don’t fit the typical meal-prep demographic.  But I love convenience foods, I love frozen and canned and prechopped veggies.  I have to be choosy because of finances, but anything I can do to make it more likely those vegetables will end up in my mouth and not rotting in the Drawer of Broken Dreams is in my mind the Best Idea Ever.

4.  Hates include:  Green smoothies, excessively spicy food, cabbage, the smell of vinegar, the slimy white food group (mayonnaise, ranch dressing, yogurt, etc), cooked bananas, okra, sea vegetables or any kind of fake fish, avocados, giant burritos (soggy tortillas, ew), and so far I’m really not on board with any of the nondairy cheeses though I am willing to be persuaded otherwise; martinis.

5.  Loves include:  Broccoli and cauliflower; the smell of garam masala or simmering curry; Gardein Szechuan Beefless Strips; bread dipped in things like hummus, pesto, or olive oil with garlic; big juicy portobello mushrooms cooked up like steak; a gigantic baked potato with butter and a crispy, salty skin; roasted veg like sweet potatoes, asparagus, and carrots; frozen banana “soft serve” with peanut butter and cinnamon; veggie pakoras; simple stir fried veg with rice and lots of soy sauce; frozen then thawed tofu, marinated and baked; pasta with garlic, butter, and sauteed mushrooms; coffee flavored anything; cupcakes; pumpkin muffins; margaritas.

6. I love cookbooks.  I consider them a form of literature – most people don’t realize how much writing skill and talent goes into creating one.  Let’s face it, in the modern world cookbooks aren’t so much how-to manuals as they are books of wishes and dreams; we read them and fantasize more than we take action.  My goal is to write a cookbook that does some of both – gives you recipes you’ll use, but also something to just sit down and read on a rainy day.

7.  I suck at food photography, or at least I do now.  That’s one thing I plan on doing through this blog – I’ve been doing research, practicing, and plan to take an online course or two on food photography.  I can’t afford nifty equipment but I’ve already learned that you can do amazing work with just an iPhone and a few sheets of white posterboard.  So chances are my first forays will be dreadful, but my hope is by the time I really get the cookbook underway I’ll have improved drastically.

8.  I know a shit-ton about food.  Things you’ll read about here besides recipes will include history, science, technique, information about equipment that is genuinely useful versus what’s just counter candy.  Top ten lists of products, books, cooking shows, and other resources. I went to culinary school for about six months – just long enough for the resulting debt to outweigh what I’d accumulated from three years at university – but my real culinary education came after that, once I found a fascination with food science and history.  Some of my favorite food books aren’t even cookbooks, but histories of spices, ingredients, and trailblazers in the culinary world.  I plan to share a lot of that here.

9.  There will be affiliate links on this blog.  That means if you click on a product I mention and go buy it from Amazon, I’ll get a wee kickback from the sale.

10. Examples of some of the things you’ll see here in addition to recipes:

The Grand Unified Pancake Theory
My 10 must-have kitchen doohickies
Cooking Playlists:  Curry Night
What’s a Maillard With You? Chemical reactions on your stove
Chopped: The Drinking Game
Vanilla: It’s Anything But
Five Random Facts About Cumin

If any of that sounds fun, stick around.  Welcome aboard, fellow eaters, and enjoy!

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