Barbecue Sauce

October 23, 2008 at 9:58 am (frozen tofu, Isa C. Moskowitz, Mom’s recipes, Quick weeknight recipe, Sauce/dressing, Tofu, unrated)

Sarah Palin grew up in Alaska, which is close to Russia, and thus she claims foreign policy experience. I grew up in Texas, the great state of barbecue, so therefore I’m an expert in the art of barbecuing.  Well…, let’s just say that I know as much about barbecue as Sarah Palin knows about foreign policy.

I’ve only ever tried two barbecue sauce recipes: my mom’s, and more recently the recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance.  The recipe on the left is my mom’s recipe for barbecue sauce, and is meant to be added to frozen tofu which has been marinated in peanut butter, paprika, garlic, salt, pepper, and oil. Barbecue sauce #2 is based on the recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance (I’ve made a few changes), and is meant to be added to tofu baked with oil and soy sauce.  The second recipe calls for more esoteric and expensive ingredients: pomegranate molasses, shallots, maple syrup, liquid smoke, star anise, etc.  On the other hand, I haven’t been able to find American style tomato sauce, brown sugar, salad mustard, or blackstrap molasses here in Germany.  After making the VwV recipe, I was surprised that it tasted quite similar to my mom’s recipe.  I lined the recipes up below to compare them and there are quite a few differences. The most noticeable difference to me was the absence of any acid in the VwV recipe.  I added lemon juice both times I made it, and it helped balance the flavors.  I’m curious, however, to try a side by side taste test and see which one comes out ahead.  My taste test will have to wait until I get my hands on some yellow mustard and molasses.  Ultimately, I’d like to merge the two recipes, and create the perfect, German-shopping-friendly recipe for a vegetarian barbecue sauce.   If anyone has any suggestions for other barbecue recipes I should try in my taste comparison, please post a comment.

2 Tbs. oil 1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped 1 cup shallots, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced 2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups tomato sauce 6 ounces of tomato paste
2 cups water 2 cups water or vegetable broth
3/4 cup brown sugar 1/4 cup maple syrup
1 Tbs. blackstrap molasses 3 Tbs. pomegranate molasses
1 tsp. salt 2 Tbs. soy sauce (maybe more?)
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder 1/8 tsp. cayenne
no smoke flavor in recipe 1/8 tsp. chipotle powder or liquid smoke
1 tsp. allspice a pinch of ground cloves
2 arms of star anise
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ginger
no pepper in recipe, but added to tofu several grinds of black pepper
3 Tbs. dried parsley no herbs in recipe
1/3 cup lemon juice no acid in recipe
1/2 cup salad mustard no acid or mustard in recipe
no peanut butter in recipe, but added to tofu 2 Tbs. peanut butter

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White bean, fennel, and rosemary soup

October 22, 2008 at 3:38 am (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Beans, Italian, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, soup)

This is my favorite version of white bean soup, at the moment.  It’s a light soup with a thin broth, but the beans make it very filling.  The fennel adds sweetness and a bit of crunch, and the rosemary adds a subtle forest aroma.  I usually just throw this together, so I don’t have exact amounts yet. I’m guessing here, but I’ll measure everything next time I make it.


  • white beans
  • water or vegetable broth
  • rosemary
  • onion
  • fennel
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • radishes (optional)
  • parmigiano-reggiano (optional)
  • olive oil (optional)


  1. In a 3 quart saucepan, add 3/4 cup small white beans and 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil.
  2. Add 1/2 tsp. salt and a sprig of rosemary, reduce the heat to low, and cover loosely.  Simmer gently for about 1.5 hours, or until the beans are almost soft.
  3. Add a cup of vegetable broth, or more water to the beans, 2 cups of very thinly sliced fennel, and a small onion, diced.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the fennel is tender but still a bit crisp.
  4. Add 1 Tbs. of minced rosemary, and freshly ground black pepper.  A nice garnish is halved or quartered radishes.  They add a pretty pink color, and a bit of peppery bite to the soup. You can also grate a bit of parmigiano over each bowl if you like.
  5. Serve immediately.

If you don’t have rosemary, you can sub in another herb of your choice.  If you use a bouillon cube, remember to reduce the salt.

If I already have beans cooked, then I’ll start by sauteing the fennel and onions and rosemary in a bit of olive oil, then add the beans and broth afterwards.

Derek said the soup was tasty, but it was a little too bland for him.  He thought it needed “a little something extra.”

This soup doesn’t last too long in the fridge. It gets thick and sludgy and unappetizing. I try to finish it the day after I make it, or at the latest, two days later.

Rating: B+
Derek: B

Update Nov 6, 2010:

I cooked 1 cup of a medium white bean in 4 cups of water with 1 tsp. of salt.  The beans were just labeled “white beans” in German but I think based on the size that they were great northern.  When they were soft I sauteed about 5-6 cups very thinly sliced fennel in a Tbs. of butter with one small red onion cut into thin rings.  Next time I think I would use olive oil rather than butter.  I added all the veggies to the soup along with another 4? cups of unsalted, homemade vegetable broth.  When I served the soup I sprinkled about 1/2? tsp. rosemary on top of each bowl and let people add grated parmesan to taste.  I thought the soup didn’t have enough beans.  Next time I think I would use 1.5 cups of these beans, or just make less soup so there are no leftovers.  Maybe with small navy beans you only need 1 cup, but the beans I bought were  big enough that there aren’t actually all that many with only 1 cup. Also, I overcooked the fennel and onions by letting them sit a while in the hot soup.  They ended up a bit stringy.  Maybe cutting them into smaller pieces would be better–or at least adding them to the soup only right before serving.  Even a few fennel pieces that were raw when I put them in (that didn’t get sauteed) ended up very soft.  The broth was pretty good I thought, but Derek and my guests added more salt.  I served 3 small bowls as appetizers, and then Derek and two guests both had seconds.  There were about 2.5 cups of soup left.

Derek liked the soup.  He even commented that this is one of the very few soups that I make that he actually looks forward to.

What are the differences between different types of white beans?

Cook’s Illustrated says they all originate from the pole bean, and taste very similar, but the textures are different.

  • Cannellini beans (the largest at about 0.9 inches after cooking, also called white kidney beans) have the thickest skins, which keeps the inside of the bean creamy.  Their flavor is buttery with a subtle mushroomlike character, and their texture is meaty and lush.
  • Great Northern beans are a bit smaller (0.69 inch long when cooked), and have more tender skins and slightly less creamy flesh.  Cook’s illustrated says they have strong mineral notes and their texture is slightly chalky and mealy.
  • Navy beans (0.52 inch long) are the most tender and soft, but their thin skins slip off easily and contributed an almost chewy texture.  Their flavor is nutty and sweet, and their texture is very creamy.
  • Small white beans (not the same as navy beans) are mild and bland, with a chalky texture.

In a test of all three beans in their Tuscan White Bean Soup (January/February 2001), Cook’s Illustrated found that tasters preferred the creamy texture and larger size of the cannellini beans, but the great Northern beans tasted nearly as good. However, they say that the navy beans yielded too high a ratio of skins to flesh. They say that navy beans, however, are excellent in baked beans because the acidic molasses helps keep bean skins intact during the long cooking, so this is not an issue.

A post from July 24, 2006

White beans in a crockpot: I often don’t like how my beans come out–too soft, and falling apart, or still a bit tough no matter how long I cook them, or bland sometimes. But I cooked small white (navy?) beans last week and they came out wonderfully. I started out with beans I had just purchased from the co-op. I put two cups of beans in my crock pot and covered them with water, added a few cloves of peeled garlic and a tsp. of salt. I cooked them overnight on low. When I tasted them in the morning they were done, and the broth was incredibly flavorful. I was happy just drinking the broth! I had soup without adding anything at all.

Note regarding Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Tuscan White Bean Soup:

The recipe calls for pancetta, but for a vegetarian variant they suggest adding a 2 ounce piece of parmesan rind to the beans while they cook.  I’ve done this several times and never detected any great improvement in flavor.  Their recipe (to serve 3 – 4) calls for boiling 1/2 pound of dry beans in 6 cups of water, with a medium halved but unpeeled onion, 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, a bay leaf and 1/2 tsp. salt.  This results in a slightly musty tasting soup.  I suspect that the slow-cooked garlic (and perhaps the onion, bay leaf, and parmigiano too) adds to the slightly dark, funky taste that’s at odds with the light, fresh soup I’m going for.  Also, for me 1/2 tsp. salt is not quite enough for 1/2 pound of dry beans.  Perhaps the pancetta adds salt as well, which is why the vegetarian version ends up not salty enough?

The cook’s illustrated recipe says the best way to infuse the soup with rosemary flavor is to submerge a rosemary sprig in the boiling soup, then cover and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.  I’ve never found that this adds enough rosemary flavor for me.  I like to sprinkle minced rosemary or sage into each bowl.

The original recipe from January 2001 says soaking is not necessary, and the beans can be simmered gently on the stove in salted water.  When I try this with cannellini beans they’re a bit tough, and many of the bean skins have fallen off.  The updated recipe in 2008 for hearty Tuscan bean stew says to soak the beans overnight in salted water.  Brining the beans allows the salt to soften the skins but keeps it from penetrating inside, where it can make the beans mealy.  They say to dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in a large container, then add a pound of cannellini beans. Soak at room temperature, for at least 8 and up to 24 hours. It’s necessary to drain and rinse the beans well after they’re soaked, or the soup will be too salty. To produce perfectly cooked beans with intact skins they recommend gently cooking the beans at a near-simmer in a 250-degree oven. Cook’s Illustrated also says that if you’re going to add tomatoes to your soup, add them toward the end of cooking, since their acid interferes with the softening process. To make your soup more substantial, they suggest serving the stew on a slab of toasted country bread, drizzled with fruity extra-virgin olive oil.

Note added Nov 9, 2008:

I tried making the chickpea, fennel, and orange zest soup from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop.  The soup called for tomatoes, but I decided to leave them out.  I added the 1 tsp. of orange zest called for, but I couldn’t really taste it in the final soup, so I added some minced rosemary to each bowl for more flavor.  In the end the soup was quite good, pretty similar to my white bean version.  I think the white beans are creamier, so I prefer them over the chickpeas, but the chickpeas make a nice variation.

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Pureed Cauliflower Soup with Pesto

October 21, 2008 at 9:21 am (B_minus (2.5 stars), Cruciferous rich, Italian, Jack Bishop, Quick weeknight recipe, soup, Vegetable dishes)

This is a simple but satisfying soup, from Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian cookbook.

  • 1 large cauliflower head, sliced or broken into florets (about 2.5 pounds, or 6 cups of florets)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 Tbs. dry white wine
  • 3 cups vegetables stock or water (I needed a bit more)
  • 1 tsp. salt (I used 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 bouillon cube and it was quite salty)
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup pesto
  1. In a 4-6 quart saucepan, saute the onion in the olive oil until golden, about 6 minutes.  Add the wine and cook until the alcohol aroma fades.
  2. Add the cauliflower and stir to coat the florets with oil.  Add the stock, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 12 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender.
  3. Use a stick blender to puree the soup, and add more broth if necessary to thin the soup.
  4. Swirl 1.5 – 2 tsp. of pesto into each bowl before serving.

Bishop suggests serving this with olive and thyme foccacia.  Serves 4 to 6.  Makes just under 8 cups, depending on how thin your like it.

My notes:

I enjoyed this soup.  It’s thick and creamy without actually adding any cream, and the pesto adds a nice flavor to the relatively bland soup.  I wouldn’t rave about the recipe, but I can see myself making it again.  Derek said it was tasty, but didn’t go for seconds.  The next day, however, he added more pesto and then raved about it, telling me “You should make this for company.”

Rating: B

Derek: A-

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Derek’s Basic Oatmeal from Rolled Oats

October 19, 2008 at 11:01 am (Alma's faves, breakfast, B_minus (2.5 stars), Derek's faves, Grains, Monthly menu plan: brunch, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Soymilk) (, , )

I much prefer oatmeal made from steel-cut oats to oatmeal made from rolled oats, but I haven’t been able to find steel-cut oats in Germany yet. Plus, Derek and Alma both prefer the flaky texture of rolled oats. Here’s the basic recipe that Derek has been using. Read the rest of this entry »

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Roasted Squash and Red Onion Salad

October 19, 2008 at 10:32 am (101 cookbooks, B_minus (2.5 stars), Vegetable dishes)

One of the few food blogs I read regularly is 101 cookbooks.  I often see recipes that I’d like to try, but rarely get around to making any of them.  Finally, the planets aligned, and I actually made one of Heidi’s featured recipes: roasted pumpkin salad.  I had bought two small squashes at the farmer’s market, but hadn’t gotten a chance to cook them before leaving for Italy.  I’m not positive, but I think they were sweet dumpling squashes: small, yellow with green striations, and shaped kind of like acorn squash, but less pointy.  I had planned on just roasting the squash halves, but then this squash salad recipe turned up in my inbox and I decided to repurpose the squashes.

I didn’t bother to peel my squash, since the skin looked quite thin.  It was a good decision, as the skin was soft and delicate once cooked.  Just one of my squashes made over 3 cups of diced squash, so I halved the other squash and roasted it on the same tray as the diced one.  I didn’t feel like getting another sheet dirty so I roasted my red onions on the same sheet as well.  The vegetables didn’t seem crowded at all, so I figured it wouldn’t be a problem.  The vegetables roasted quite well, becoming sweet and carmelized, thanks to the generous glug of olive oil I spread over them.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find wild rice in the grocery store, so instead we bought a mix of basmati and a few grains of wild rice.

The dressing didn’t come out as creamy and white as the one in the photo. Perhaps I should have used a blender instead of my mini processor. Mine was a little gritty and greasy, and tasted primarily of lemon juice. It had a certain resemblance to a tahini dressing. I drizzled a little dressing on the salad, but I couldn’t taste it much after tossing all the ingredients together, so I kept adding more dressing, and ended up adding probably half the dressing to the rice. I think perhaps if I hadn’t mixed it in but just drizzled it on top it would have had a stronger flavor. As it was all that dressing made the salad quite rich and tasty, but still I couldn’t taste the dressing specifically. Derek added even more dressing to his portion, and we ended up using up all the dressing by the time the salad was finished. I can’t tell from Heidi’s instructions what fraction of the dressing she had intended for us to use, but it certainly ended up being quite a rich dish.

The dish was mildly flavored. I had subbed in thyme for the cilantro, and I quite liked the thyme flavor with the roasted squash. The pumpkin and thyme together oozed autumn, and the roasted onions added sweetness and a great deep purple color to the dish. I was worried the dish would be a bit too bland for Derek, but after adding salt and more dressing he really liked it. He only rated it a B, because he thought the dish wasn’t quite right, but that it has potential.

We ate the salad with black bean tortillas for dinner, and then had the leftovers for lunch the next day. I ended up adding the extra rice and the second squash as well, and it made quite a large lunch. However, we were hungry again a few hours later. I suppose that white rice and olive oil don’t make the most long-lasting meal.

I will try to make this recipe again, cutting back a little on the olive oil in the dressing, drizzling the dressing on top rather than mixing it in to the salad, and subbing a more hearty grain for the white rice. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get my hands on some wild rice.

Other recipes from 101 cookbooks that I’ve tried include the skinny omelet, the pan-roasted brussels sprouts, and the Big Sur power bars. Recipes still on my list to try include the five minute tomato sauce, Heidi’s frozen yogurt, the salsa of the year, and the harissa spaghetti, as well as another one of her many grain salads.

Update October 28, 2008:
I made this recipe again, but I couldn’t find small red onions so I subbed in small yellow onions. Perhaps I didn’t roast them long enough, but they were way too bland tasting, and not sweet and delicious like the red onions last time. The squash (the same kind) was still really tasty, and I used the same rice, but this time I was able to get cilantro for the dressing. I misread the directions and pureed the cilantro into the dressing, which resulted in a very thick, bright green paste. I thinned it a bit with water, but it tasted… weird. It wasn’t bad tasting, but neither Derek nor I would make it again, and most of it ended up getting thrown out. I know it would have tasted different if I had stirred in the cilantro rather than blending it, but I think I just don’t like that sunflower seed dressing. Next time I’m going to just make a vinaigrette I think, with thyme or rosemary.

Rating: B
Derek: B

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Truffled celery root and potato gratin

October 5, 2008 at 7:06 am (101 cookbooks, Beverage, C (2 stars, okay, edible), My brain, Root vegetables, Starches, Vegetable dishes)

I was trying to figure out what to do with a big piece of celery root in the fridge, and Derek suggested roasting it in the oven.  I had already julienned it, so I decided to make a casserole of sorts with potatoes and onions.  I was inspired by the Spanish omelet recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance, and tried to make a kind of creamy sauce to fill in the cracks between the vegetables, and hold the whole thing together.  I was also inspired by the Greek lemon and garlic potatoes from Cook’s Illustrated, and seasoned the dish with garlic, lemon, and fresh oregano. The final dish ended up sort of like a cross between a gratin and a frittata.

  • 1.5 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • 3/4 pound celery root, julienned
  • 1 leek, sliced thinly
  • 1 small onion, sliced into half moons
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 3 Tbs. fresh oregano, minced
  • 1.5 ounces feta
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup lowfat milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Heat the olive oil on medium-high in a 12-inch oven-proof skillet.  Add the potatoes, celery root, leek, onions and salt and pepper, and cook until the potatoes start to soften.  Add the garlic and oregano and cook on medium for another 3 minutes.  Add the lemon juice and zest and feta and off heat.
  3. Beat the eggs with the milk, then pour over the vegetables.  Stir to distribute the egg mixture evenly.
  4. Place the skillet in the oven and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until the eggs are set.  Remove from oven and let cool for five minutes.

Derek liked this casserole quite a bit, although he said he wished there was more celery root and fewer potatoes (which were undercooked in his opinion). He also thought there was too much lemon juice. I also found it too acidic from the lemon juice, although I liked the lemon zest a lot. I couldn’t taste the oregano very much, and I thought it was a tad too salty.  The celery root was julienned so finely that it cooked much faster than the potatoes.

I think if I try this again I’ll use 1 pound each of potatoes and celery root and onion, and I’ll cut the celery root into a thicker julienne.  I’ll use half as much lemon juice and twice as much zest, and substitute thyme for the oregano, and an Italian pecorino-style cheese instead of feta.  I’d also like to add something with a bit of color, as this dish is very white.

When we were in Burgundy last month we had a celery root tart that Derek really liked.  It had a buttery crust, and the filling was a mix of gorgonzola, eggs, grated celery root and pear (or maybe apple).  This dish reminded me of that tart a bit, although the cheese was milder.  Celery root goes so wonderfully with fruit, another option would be to add in some pear or apple and use a sharp cheddar cheese.

Rating: B-

Derek: between a B and a B+

Update October 30, 2008:

I tried to make another version of this recipe, using some ideas from this recipe for truffled chantarelle, celery root, and potato gratin. I sliced potatoes and celeriac thinly on my mandoline.  I added a small pat of butter to a casserole pan, and cooked up a big bag of white mushrooms (sliced), adding white wine and truffle salt as well.  I added fresh nutmeg and thyme to the dish, but apparently not enough to taste them in the final casserole.  Once the mushrooms were starting to cook I added in the potatoes and celery root, and about a cup of water.  I let the vegetables simmer while I made the cashew cream sauce given in Heidi’s recipe.  I added about 1 cup of the cashew cream sauce to the vegetables, and grated a bit of gruyere over the top of the casserole.  I baked it at 375 until the cheese was melted and browned on top.

Derek really liked the final dish.  It was rich tasting and homey and he said there was a deep, roasted flavor he couldn’t identify (the truffle salt I think).  The celery root didn’t add a strong celery flavor. I’m not even sure I would have noticed that there was celery root in the dish if I hadn’t been paying close attention. I liked the taste of the cashew sauce (pretty simple, tasting of cashews), but found the texture a bit gritty.  It’s definitely something I’d like to play with in the future.

I enjoyed the casserole as leftovers, but Derek didn’t like it as much as he had the first night.

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Sorrel Salads

October 1, 2008 at 12:52 pm (My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Salads, unrated)

Sorrel is a slightly sour, slightly citrusy green.  My grandmother’s generation called sorrel sour grass, and knew it as the primary ingredient in schav, a Russian soup served cold and topped with sour cream.    I’ve found sorrel (der Sauerampfer in German) at the farmer’s market for the past few weeks.  Along with lettuce and chard, it’s one of the few greens that are available here. I haven’t tried making sorrel soup yet, but we have been enjoying eating it in salads.

A few weeks ago I made a version of my watercress, watermelon, feta and ginger salad, substituting sorrel for the watercress.  I prefer watercress in this salad, but haven’t found it yet in Germany.  The sorrel version was not bad.

Today I made a salad with sorrel, a tart jonagold apple from the market, and beets (purchased at the market pre-roasted and peeled).  I tossed on a few pecan halves (not from the market, but from the Trader Joe’s in Seattle), and whipped up a quick dressing (1 Tbs. olive oil, 1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar, 1 spoonful of honey mustard, fresh ground black pepper, and some fresh minced oregano, from the market).   Both Derek and I enjoyed the salad quite a bit.

Posted December 24, 2006, in Chicago:

I bought some sorrel at the farmer’s market, but then had no idea what to do with it. It tasted good–sour and slightly citrus-y, but I couldn’t really think of any combos that seemed appropriate. I added some sorrel leaves to my spring rolls, which I enjoyed. Then today I was desperate for food, and made a salad with what I had in the fridge at work.

sorrel leaves, torn
1 small apple, tart and sweet, from my CSA
dill, torn
annie’s goddess (tahini) dressing

The combination was quite nice. The dill and sorrel went unexpectedly well together, and the tart/sweet of the apple complemented the sour sorrel and earthy tahini wonderfuly.

Rating: B

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Last Supper Salad

October 1, 2008 at 7:42 am (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), breakfast, Fall recipes, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, Winter recipes)

Make this recipe in the fall when crisp apples and tart cider are abundant. A very tart apple cider is what brings this whole salad together. In a pinch, plain apple juice plus extra lemon juice will do, but it won’t be as good. This is based on a recipe from the Rancho La Puerta cookbook.  The author says that a cook named Jesus created the recipe, and Derek jokingly dubbed it Last Supper Salad, and the name stuck.

Although this recipe is called a salad, I more often eat it as a snack or dessert. Made with cold ingredients, this can be served immediately, otherwise refrigerate a few hours until cold. The texture and color of the apples will start to decline after just one day, however, so don’t wait too long to eat it. Read the rest of this entry »

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