Preserve Your Peppers Now

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If you live in a spot like Michigan, organic red peppers are plentiful, fresh and reasonably priced just once a year. Since red peppers are frequently sprayed with pesticides and flown from countries I can only hope to someday visit, I like to preserve as much of this harvest as I can for use during the year. I an industrial food preserving technique–IQF (stands for individually quick frozen) to store as many organic red peppers as my freezer will hold.

Here’s how I do it. I rinse the peppers and set them on a towel to dry a few hours before I’m going to slice them. You want them to be as dry as possible when they hit the freezer. Core and seed your peppers, stripping away the pith as well. Cut one pepper into about four sections. Lay it flat and cut it into long strips. Then line all the strips up and dice them.

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Toss them onto a cookie sheet and spread them out in a single layer. Stick them in the freezer and freeze solid. When they come out, I use a pancake turner to detach them from the pan and scoop the diced peppers into a freezer bag. A one quart bag will hold 4-6 medium peppers. The peppers can be used in any dish in which they’ll be cooked–soups and sautes. I recommend using freezer bags over other containers because a little manipulation of the bag will allow you to break off the exact amount you want.

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My Squeezy Cheesy Sauce

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Well, I hail from Wisconsin on both sides–Green County–mind you. It’s like the epicenter of cheese curds. My Swiss grandparents ate cheese at every meal, so I’m a girl who likes her cheese. When I fell in love with vegetarianism at 19, I just cleared my plate for more cheese! So when I became a devoted plant-based eater several years ago, the cheese thing was a problem. I dedicated a good part of my early study to cheese alternatives and I love teaching other people how they can choose plant-based alternatives to cheese. My next class, in fact, is at Uptown Kitchen on October 3rd. I hope to see you there!

What follows is my go-to cheese sauce. We put this stuff on everything! including brown rice, veggies and, slivered almonds (shown above); on taco salads; in breakfast burritos with sauteed tofu… the possibilities are endless! You can modify it to your own taste by changing the amounts of ume plum vinegar and lemon juice. Or add more or less squash to make it creamier. Also, if you don’t have a high-speed blender, check out my modification below.

Sue’s Favorite Cheesy Sauce

Ingredients:
2 medium yellow squash (12 oz.)
½ cup cashews soaked in filtered water 4-6 hours
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
2T mild miso (I use chickpea, but brown rice is fine)
1-2T ume plum vinegar
1-2T lemon juice
½ tsp. toasted sesame oil
½ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. chili powder

Directions:
Steam the squash for 5-7 minutes, or until firm tender.
Drain the cashews and rinse.
Add cashews and the rest of the ingredients, including the squash, to the blender. Blend until creamy.
Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

If you do not have a high-speed blender, grind the *dry* cashews in a food processor until they are a coarse crumb texture. This can be loud and long, but don’t go too long or you’ll get cashew butter. Then soak for a couple of hours and proceed as directed.

Comfort Food, Part 1

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I’ve been a bit obsessed with ground beef subs. Why? Because ground beef is such a big part of the typical American diet and so to have a ‘go-to’ whole foods substitute to use in traditional recipes is a big bonus with the crowd I work with–namely people who switch suddenly to a plant-based diet for health reasons. You have to be willing to swap out ingredients depending on whether your diner is gluten sensitive, has an allergy to mushrooms or nuts, or is avoiding soy due to an estrogenic cancer. At my plant-based comfort food class, I’ll be providing more specific recipes. But for the moment, I will tell you some of the components I use when concocting a substitute for ground beef that will hold its own when used in recipes like hamburger helper, chili, sloppy joes and spaghetti bolognese.

Nothing beats a half cup of raw soaked walnuts, ground up in your food processor. Add a half cup of dried shitake mushrooms (grind these up, too), 8 oz. of drained and briefly frozen and crumbled tofu, and a half cup of bulgur wheat. Of these, all but the walnuts will act like a sponge and soak up liquid. I like to rub my tofu in spices–because recognizing bits of tofu is a real buzzkill for picky eaters. I usually use something like a tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce, a little beer or red wine, and maybe some coffee. To that, I might add smoked paprika, chili powder, ground fennel seed, freshly ground black pepper, oregano, cumin or blackening spices. Once the tofu is coated, you can mix in the other ingredients. Note that if you are using bulgur and dried mushrooms, you’ll need to add extra liquid to keep the recipe in balance. This could take the form of tomatoes or sauce when making chili or beer when making sloppy joes. In the hamburger helper above, I used a combination of chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and red wine.

Here’s a quick guide to swapping out ingredients based on your sensitivities.

Can’t do nuts? Do bulgur wheat
Can’t do tofu? Do navy beans, baked at 250 for 30 minutes in the oven
Can’t do mushrooms? Do well-rinsed ground up jackfruit or thoroughly squeezed ground up Butler soy curls.

The point is that the ground beef subs in your grocery store freezer case are highly-processed and filled with weird ingredients–including animal ingredients like egg whites. They’re also expensive! You can mimic the texture of ground beef quite well all on your own. When you’ve found the perfect blend, make a bunch and freeze it. That way your happy helper will be just as quick as the irradiated stuff that comes in the box.

Plant-based 101: Soup stock

To make a really rich and delicious soup, you need a flavorful base. Vegan soup stocks can be just as rich and nuanced as stocks made with meat–and they have the added benefit of a powerful infusion of antioxidants. Here, master cook, Geoff Fields shares his soup stock recipe with us. Vary it with the produce and spices you have on hand and you’ll have created your own recipe. Thank you, Geoff!

Vegetable Stock

1 pound leeks (split, washed, and chopped)
1 pound carrots (peeled and chopped)
1 1/2 pounds yellow onions (chopped)
1 fennel bulb (trimmed and chopped)
1 garlic head (sliced cross-ways)
2 tablespoons fresh ginger (chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 bay leaves (crumbled)
4 thyme sprigs
1 bunch Italian parsley sprigs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roast vegetables with olive oil in pan for 20 minutes. Transfer vegetables to stockpot. Deglaze roasting pan with 1 cup white wine and add contents to stockpot along with bay leaves, thyme, and parsley, and enough water to cover. Gently simmer, skimming often, for 1 hour. Prepare ice bath. Strain stock through sieve or cheesecloth into container; rest container in ice bath. Refrigerate stock for up to 2 days, or freeze in container(s) for longer storage.

If you have no time to make soup stock and want the best alternative, Here are the recent winners of the Vegeterian Times soup stock taste awards: Wolfgang Puck Organic Vegetable Broth, Swanson Organic Vegetable Broth, Manischewitz Vegetable Broth, Saffron Road Classic Culinary Vegetable Broth.

If you want to use a bouillon cube, just check the sodium content and make sure there is no added MSG. Better than Bouillon, which I used to use all the time, is loaded with hidden MSG under the name ‘autolyzed yeast extract.’ I now use CelefibR cubes that I purchase from Harvest Health.

Thanks again, Geoff!

Meet the Neighbors: Jackfruit, the ‘vegetable meat’ of India.

Jackfruit is native to Asia and is difficult to get fresh here in the states.  It has been dubbed the ‘vegetable meat’ in India, because, in its unripe state, it has a stringy, chewy consistency that can replace meat in many dishes.  In honor of our supper club this evening, where I will be giving a demo, I’m putting this online for my subscribers.

Here in west Michigan, we only have access to canned versions.  But after reading this blog on the adventures of using a fresh jackfruit, I can live with the canned version for now.  Here is the kind that we buy.  I have seen it at Spice of India, Mediterranean Island, and Asian Delight Market, next to Horrock’s on 44th. Make sure to get the green ‘unripe’ version of the fruit.  The ripe version is sweet.

Okay, canned jackfruit is preserved in citric acid, so first thing you want to do is rinse it thoroughly in a strainer.

Following that you want to squeeze the water out of it.  You’ve probably had the experience of not squeezing enough water out of spinach and having a soupy dip–yuk!  The more you squeeze your little jackfruit pieces, the better.  They will readily absorb sauces this way.  I usually take two or three pieces in my hand at a time.  This is what it should look like:

Next, you want to separate the strands.  Now, this is where I get a little bored.  I don’t know all that much about jackfruit anatomy, but to my thinking, there are three parts to deal with: the lovely stringy stuff, the seedpods and the harder core pieces.

strings, seeds and pods, oh my!

You definitely want to use them all and various recipes have you separating the parts after cooking–very messy–or separating them by hand as you massage in the spices–very tedious. “There’s got to be a better way!”  Turns out, there is …

You could just take a couple of your squeezed handfuls and put them in your food processor. Pulse maybe 5, 6, 7 times.  Or you could do as I do and take five minutes to separate the stringy bits from the core and seeds and pulse the bejeebers out the core and seeds first.  Then add the stringy bit and pulse a time or two more.

This is perfect for pulled pork-alikes!  But, you can also get a gleeful and throw all the rest in and turn the processor on and end up with…well, something more like sloppy joes!

So, to try things out, once you’ve got your jackfruit ready, stir it up with your favorite barbeque sauce (last time I made this, I used two cans of jackfruit and about 3 cups of sauce.  Don’t fear soupiness, you can always drain it).  You can heat the two together in the microwave or simmer it for twenty minutes or put it in the slow cooker for a few hours.  You want to give the jackfruit time to absorb the sauce.  Here’s what the finished dish looks like…

vegan pulled pork with creamy cole slaw…have a fork handy!

 

Below find my favorite ‘no cook’ kinda healthy bbq sauce.  We have used jackfruit to make ‘crab cakes.’  These are amazing!  Roger, my cooking husband, recommends that you reduce the amount of lemon juice you use to offset the citric acid in the canned fruit.  I’ve used them to make jackfruit carnitas with, what else, avocado cream!!  They are so very delicious.  I will provide recipes for all these things in time, but at the moment, I must clean my house.

Sue’s Que Recipe

2 cups of sugar-free or reduced sugar ketchup
1/4 cup molasses
2 T reduced-sodium tamari
2 T tomato paste
1/4 cup date sugar*
1/4 100% jam preserves (I like cherry!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T smoked paprika
A few dashes of hot sauce (I like chipotle for this—it’s sweet and smoky)

*Date sugar is dried ground dates, so you get sweet but all the trace minerals, too. Look for them in health food stores

I recommend eating this Carolina style with a bunch of coleslaw on top. It’s a sweet bbq sauce, too, but you can adjust to your liking.

This is so easy, you don’t have to take my class, but it’s a lot of fun if you do!

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