Monday, August 26, 2013

Goodbye Chicago

Goodbye Lake.

Goodbye skyscrapers.

Goodbye kitschy window displays.

Goodbye city porch sitting.

Goodbye South Loop, Lakeview, Bridgeport, Pilsen, Hyde Park and Logan Square.

Goodbye garden apartment (that's a euphemism for basement, there's no garden) were I can watch all the drunk Cubs fans stumble by.

Goodbye serious winter.

Goodbye kitten-sized rats

Goodbye reliable old post-crit dive bar with your tater tot platters.

Goodbye paper studio.

Goodbye bindery.

Goodbye (especially) print studio.

Goodbye Midwest!

My three years in exile are over and I'm coming home! I will be spending the next 4 or 5 days driving west with my mom and two kitties. See you on the other side of the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Rockies, and the Cascades!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New and Improved Slow Cooker Seitan Recipe

When I started working on this post I was just going to do a Vegan Philly Cheese-steak recipe. But then I started experimenting with the seitan, trying to improve on my other slow cooker recipe. And I think I came up with something pretty good. This recipe combines the convenience of the slow cooker (no foil, no steaming, no baking) with the versatility of making two different types of seitan at once. So you can make a batch on the weekend to use in sandwiches, pastas, tacos, soups, or pizzas all week long. First I'll walk through this easy basic seitan recipe, then show you a couple things I did with it during the week. 

For the Stock:
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 diced onion
4 smashed cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 inch piece kombu
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes

For the Seitan:
1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup vegetable stock
2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated
1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce (cheap-o store brands are often vegan)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke

First, combine all the ingredients for the stock in a slow cooker, cover and turn on High to preheat while you prep the seitan.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (wheat gluten through black pepper). In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the wet ingredients.

Make a little crater in the dry ingredients, add the wet and stir until a dough starts to form. Dump the dough out onto a clean surface and knead for several minutes.

At this point you have a choice about the final shape and texture of your seitan. You can break the seitan into several chunks and cook them free form or you can roll them into logs. I recommend making two logs, since they're better for slicing. To maximize the versatility of the final seitan and make two different styles at once, wrap one log in cheesecloth and leave the second one naked.

Whatever shape you go with, place the seitan in the slow cooker with the preheated stock. There should be enough liquid to cover the seitan, but it's ok if it pokes out a little. Depending on the size of your slow cooker, you might need to add a little more water if the seitan isn't mostly submerged. Cover and let it do its thing for 4 or 5 hours. Check and see if it's firm enough, then let it cook for another hour or two if needed (slow cookers vary greatly, I think mine runs a bit hot). Remove seitan from cooking stock and let cool before slicing and removing cheesecloth.

The picture above illustrates the difference in texture and shape between the two logs. The log in front was cooked sans cheesecloth. It has a much softer, chewier texture than the log in the back (with cheesecloth). Because the dough wasn't restricted by the cloth while cooking, it expanded quite a bit more and absorbed a lot more broth, making it both juicier and more flavorful. It was so tasty I had to stop myself from eating it all straight up before I made 'em into sandwiches!

The wrapped version has its own merits as well. Since it was constricted during cooking, it has a much firmer texture, almost like pepperoni. It is very sliceable- I tested both logs on a mandolin, and the cheesecloth log held up beautifully and sliced translucently thin. 

The wrapped log also works really well in the food processor; I roughly chopped it into chunks and processed it with some herbs and truffle oil to cook up a quick and easy bolognese sauce.

So, I really recommend making the double log version, with just one wrapped in cheesecloth. I had a lot of fun thinking up different ways to use the seitan, and having a choice in texture was really great depending on what I was making. With these two logs I made:

 2 large Philly cheese-steak sandwiches,

3 or 4 large bowls of pho with thinly sliced seitan on top,

4 generous plates of spaghetti with "meat" sauce and vegan Parmesan,

and ate the rest of it straight! Next time I think I will make some "chorizo" for burritos and use the rest in pot pies or maybe a shepherd's pie. Some sort of savory pie. Hey, if you make it let me know what you do with it!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Great Lakes Bug Spray

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough hang out on Michigan's side of the Lake with some friends. We floated on the river, swam in the lake, cooked over campfires, and spent as much time as possible outside. It was a blast except that once the sun went down, the mosquitoes would come out to play. I brought along a bottle of this homemade insect repellent, and I have to admit that though it worked (and smelled great) during the mosquitoes' early evening warm up rounds, it failed during their nighttime feeding frenzies. If you are in a serious cloud of hungry bugs, then this is not gonna cut it!

Blend together in a small glass or plastic spray bottle (about 2 ounces) the following:
distilled water
Essential oils:
10 drops citronella
10 drops lemongrass
5 drops rosemary
5 drops eucalyptus
5 drops cedarwood

Apply generously and savor these last weeks of summer. Cheers!

Monday, August 5, 2013

An Explanation Over Avocado Pesto Pasta

Wow, I have really been slacking this summer! I've been keeping a mental list of several new recipe posts to share, but whenever I get the chance to make it happen, sitting in front of the computer sounds like the last thing I want to do. Maybe it's because I used up my last remaining brain cells on my thesis project, or maybe it's because sitting on a porch and grilling with friends on a summer evening will always win me over.

I started this blog to give myself a little more balance in my crazy grad school life. I loved school, but I wanted to have a reason (even a self-imposed one) to work on non-school related projects. As much as I love writing poems, setting type by hand, binding books, and making paper I also love cooking up good food and making natural soaps and cosmetics. When I started my program, it was so labor-intensive and time consuming that I felt any extra time I could muster should be spent on more school obligations. After a year and a half of that mentality I started to burn out and found myself in need of a buffer creative outlet outside my primary one. Starting this blog fit the bill, and I used it as a reward system. I could find a new homemade seitan recipe I wanted to try out and then work extra hard at all my school stuff to make time for it. Documenting these projects as a blog gave me just enough structure to justify it. I was able to stay productive at school, then spend a Sunday afternoon doing something that had nothing to do with the history of Chicago type foundries, artist's statements, experimental poetics, grant writing, or critiques.

So now that I'm not a student and I can make my own laundry soap and pickles all day long I probably need to rethink my approach to this blog. Cuz it's fun and I've been introduced to so many rad folks with killer blogs that I always look forward to reading.

Here's a really simple, slacker-approved vegan avocado and basil pesto that you can whip up in the time it takes to cook the pasta. And of course, the great thing about making pesto on a hot day is that you don't have to cook it on the stove and heat up your kitchen more than necessary. Too bad you can't use the sun tea method to cook pasta!

1/2 pound fettucine or linguine
1 avocado
1 smallish bunch of fresh basil, cleaned and stemmed
1/4 cup of slivered almonds
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Get a large pot of water boiling. While it heats up, combine everything in a food processor and blend until smooth. Scrap down the sides and process again to be sure you don't miss any of the extra good bits. Taste for seasonings and adjust as you like.

Depending on how fast you are at prepping the pesto, your pasta may or may not be done. Just hold tight until it's ready, drain, and then toss with all the pesto. Serves two.