vegetarian improvisation

Generally when I cook I pull out a recipe – usually from my Living Cookbook database. I may not follow the recipe exactly, I generally don’t follow the recipe exactly, but I have it there. Sometimes, though, I don’t feel like selecting a recipe and I don’t feel like shopping for ingredients.

macaroni and cheeseI was in that kind of mood last week. Add to that the fact that I’m still supposed to be avoiding red meat and I ended up doing some vegetarian improvisation. On Thursday I made my own macaroni and cheese. I cooked the shells, threw them in a casserole dish along with two remaining slices of pepper jack, added shredded cheddar, and  topped it all with panko drizzled with garlic butter. I baked it for fifteen minutes. It turned out well.

For Friday dinner, we had some spinach and mushrooms in the fridge that needed to be used before they went bad. I cooked a cup brown rice, threw in the spinach along with mushrooms which I had sliced, added to that shredded cheddar and there was dinner.

Not elegant or fancy, but nutritious, easy, and inexpensive. As the tagline from the old Smooth Jazz TV program (I hate smooth jazz!)  used to say, “Life is like jazz. It’s best when you improvise.”


struggling brick-and-mortar

I am as guilty as anyone: I order a lot of things through Amazon. It’s simple, convenient, and the prices are good. But sometimes I like to see what I am buying, and for kitchen-related merchandise Terry and I are big fans of Bed Bath & Beyond. We really liked the Gilroy store, and we spent a lot of time (and money) there. The store here in Hemet is smaller, but still not bad.

Now the retailer (Terry and I call it BBY) has been struggling and has announced that they are closing stores this year. So far the Hemet store has remained open, but I wonder how long that will last.

Bed Bath & Beyond couponsWe recently needed a few things, and headed over there armed with their famous 20% off one item coupons. I needed a new 4-cup measuring cup. I hated tossing the Pyrex one I’d had for decades, but it was chipping and you don’t really want to mess around with glass in the kitchen. We were out of food-grade mineral oil for our cutting board and we needed candles.

The candles we found. The only measuring cups they had were cheap plastic ones. Really? Are you kidding me? They didn’t have the mineral oil even though I’d bought it there a year ago. I found a quality glass measuring cup at Target. It’s Anchor Hocking rather than Pyrex, but still quite serviceable. I had to use Amazon for the mineral oil.

I suppose it’s a Catch-22. If BBY doesn’t have the business they don’t have the cash flow to stock the merchandise. But if they don’t have the merchandise they’re not going to get the business – even from people like Terry and me who want to shop there.

The world of retail is not what it once was.


more on the Beyond grocery store products

I continue to be impressed by the work that the good folks at Beyond Meat are doing.

Beyond Meat Taco CrumblesI have written about their grocery store Beyond Meat patty, the Carl’s Jr. Beyond Famous Star, and the Del Taco Beyond Taco, good stuff all of it.

I have now tried two more of their grocery store products.

The Beyond Beef Crumbles, feisty flavor, is a frozen product. I used it to make tacos. It’s very tasty. From my perspective it requires no additional seasoning. It’s perhaps just a tad rubbery, but it’s really not bad at all.

Beyond Meat SausageI had been wanting to try the fresh Beyond Sausage for some time. I finally had the occassion to do so recently. There are two flavors; I bought the Brat Original. I used it on spaghetti and it was quite tasty. Terry really liked it as well. We both agreed that it was a hell of a lot more flavorful than the turkey sausage we’ve purchased.

The other sausage flavor is Italian. I’m looking forward to trying that one. These people are doing a marvelous job.


a useful little kitchen tool

Bread SlicerAfter we got our new stove with convection oven and I started baking bread again, my dad requested a raisin cinnamon loaf. I was happy to oblige and he was pleased with the result. He mentioned having a bread slicing tool that resulted in straight slices. When I saw his I decided that it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but Terry and I agreed that having such a tool would be useful.

I went to Amazon (where else?) and began to search. Most of the products had middling reviews and many of the comments mentioned flimsiness. The one that had the highest rating, a rather different design from many of the others, is the one I selected. As it turned out, between a credit I had for a returned item and points from my Amazon VISA, it cost me nothing. Now that’s a good deal.Bread Slicer box

When it arrived I was anxious to try it out, but I had to wait a day until I could bake a new loaf of bread. When I first attempted a slice I was not pleased and considered returning it. But I gave it more time and tried to make it work. I realized that the first thing I had to do was to make a clean, straight initial slice when I first cut the loaf in two. Then, if I applied proper pressure with my left hand while cutting with my right and at the same time held my mouth just right I could get a nice, even slice.

It’s a bit more flimsy and a tad less solid than I would prefer, but the thing works and I’m keeping it.


an end to envy

When Terry and I left Gilroy and moved south in 2015 we hated leaving the house into which we had put so much love, effort, and money. What I really hated giving up was the stove with convection oven which we installed as part of our kitchen remodel.

It’s shouldn’t be surprising then, that when we would watch cooking programs on Food Network (and we watch a lot of them) that I would get a bit sad and a little envious when the camera shot would show the inside of an oven with a fan in the back. That fan meant, of course, that it was a convection oven. I managed to not let that interfere with my life in any sort of significant way, but I did miss my convection oven.

Earlier this year our oven here in Hemet quit working. A day after the service man came out and diagnosed the problem we got a call saying that the repair would be $250. Given that the stove was the age of the house, twelve years old, and given that we had lost the clock display during a power bobble over the winter, we decided the money would be better spent going towards a new stove.

stoveAs much as we like to support our locally-owned appliance shop, and we do—we bought both a washer-dryer pair and a refrigerator there—their selection of stoves, at least those with convection ovens, did not excite us. We made a trip to Lowe’s and found a unit that we liked. To get it in white, we were told, would be two to three weeks. That was fine, although the two to three weeks turned into seven.

In the end, though, it was worth the wait, and in any case I was somewhat less than a hundred percent for much of that time after my surgery and the unpleasant complication that followed it. By the time the stove arrived I was feeling much better and ready to make good use of it.

Having had it for some weeks now, I can say that I am delighted. No, it is not a Wolf or Sub-Zero: it is a Samsung. It is, however, everything I need. I have my convection oven, a proof setting for bread, and even a long grill burner, something our Gilroy stove didn’t have.

No more reason to feel envy when I see the fans in the ovens on Food Network.


impromptu gazpacho

I have been following through on my plan to do more vegetarian cooking. As I wrote previously, it has to do with the fact that I’m not allowed to have red meat for the time being and my perception that I can’t fix poultry for dinner each and every day. I could, yes, but I certainly don’t want to. The vegetarian approach also fit in nicely with Earth Day, as I reflected on Monday while noting all the various celebrations reported online.

gazpacho soupIt was in fact on Monday that I made a Cajun Skillet Beans recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. The recipe included beans (I used garbanzo), celery, bell pepper, tomatoes, Dijon mustard, honey, and a lot of spices. The spice mix included thyme, basil, oregano, black pepper, and cayenne. I used hot chili powder rather than cayenne.

Terry and I both enjoyed the dish. There wasn’t enough left over for a second meal for two, so I was struck by an idea. On Tuesday at lunch time, a relatively warm day, I used our Vitamix to purée the leftover mixture that I had stored in the fridge. It made for a marvelous cold gazpacho soup (I know, that’s redundant). I added to that a slice of garlic bread from my home-baked sourdough loaf.

It made for a very tasty lunch.


The Beyond Burger

I wrote recently that as a result of my surgery I am not supposed to have red meat for three to six months after the procedure. I also wrote that I wasn’t thrilled about a diet of strictly poultry and seafood, and that I was going to want to include some vegetarian cooking in the mix. While my sensibility, as I wrote, is that if you are going to cook vegetarian you should cook vegetarian in and of its own right and not try to emulate meat, I am nonetheless not adverse to a good veggie burger or using soy crumbles to make vegetarian chili.

the Beyond Burger with fixingsA former manager of mine read the blog and noted how much her family loved the Beyond Burger. I was familiar with it because the Carl’s Jr. fast food chain had been heavily advertising the product on baseball television broadcasts. Their version is the Beyond Famous Star. What I did not know was that the uncooked Beyond Burger is available in the grocery store.

I was doing a major shopping trip at Winco, our local discount bag-your-own-groceries supermarket and I found the item in the meat department. I bought a package and grilled one of the burgers on our new stove’s grill top. I buttered a slice of sourdough bread, sprinkled it with Parmesan cheese, and added it to the grill. I added mustard to the bread and topped to burger with tomato and onion.

The result: marvelous. It tasted just like a beef burger and was just as satisfying, although it didn’t stay with me as long. It’s a bit expensive: two patties cost me nearly six dollars, but it’s a really nice treat.

I still want to try the Carl’s Jr. version.

Beyond Burger