Restaurant Style Salsa…by The Pioneer Woman

Some of you may be thinking, Really? The Pioneer Woman…?

Seriously, this is the best and quickest salsa I have ever found that you can make at home in flash. When you do, you’ll constantly mutter in disbelief at how good it is.

Just try it.

Restaurant Style Salsa on vegan breakfast nachos

Restaurant Style Salsa

by Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman with slight adaptations

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 14-ounce can plain diced tomatoes
  • 1 10-ounce can Rotel (diced tomatoes and green chilies)
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup roughly chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 whole jalapeno, roughly chopped
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • Generous 1/4 cup cilantro
  • Juice from half a lime OR approximately 1 tablespoon lime juice

DIRECTIONS:

Put everything in a blender or food processor and whiz it up till it’s reached your desired consistency.

When I use our Vitamix, I blend it on low and medium till everything is roughly chopped for about 5-10 seconds total, then I turn it to high for a split second and immediately shut the blender off. It’ll take longer with a food processor but not by much!

Recipe Notes:

  • Ree’s recipe makes a ridiculous amount of salsa! I’ve halved the recipe above and it fits perfectly in this one salsa container that we’ve kept and use over and over for this.
  • Since I make this in our high powered blender (Vitamix), I don’t bother mincing and finely chopping things. If you’re using a food processor, then you may want to be more particular.
  • If you’re wondering, any onion will do, from red to white to yellow. Heck, I’m sure shallots also work (but who has only shallots on hand if you live in the States?).
  • Some jalapenos are hot, some are not. If you want to be on the slightly safer side, discard the seeds where the majority of the heat will be. WASH YOUR HANDS well with soap right after handling them! Otherwise you’ll inadvertently rub your eyes and then life isn’t fun for about 30 minutes.
  • Once I was halfway through making this salsa and discovered we didn’t have any jalapenos on hand. I desperately looked through our fridge for something and my eyes landed on Cholula green sauce, decided to give it a go, and it worked very well. I’m sure a some pickled jalapenos will work, too, if that’s all you have.
  • Fresh lime juice is always better than from a bottle, but the latter will work in a pinch. I recommend having a bottle of good lime juice in your fridge for “just in case” times anyway. (Nellie & Joe’s Key Lime Juice is what I usually keep on hand!)
  • As always, taste and adjust! Sometimes a little bit more sugar is needed to overcome the acidity of the tomatoes. Sometimes the bottled lime juice calls for more — or the fresh lime juice calls for less! Try to check for saltiness while eating a chip; sometimes the salt on the chip will compensate for the salsa salt levels.
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Tom Yum Soup, a Thai classic

I miss Thai food. Growing up in Southern California, really good Thai restaurants are everywhere. After a while, you get super spoiled being able to access excellent ethnic food whenever you want.

And then I moved to rural Montana. Oh well, gotta learn how to make Thai food!

After getting my hands on some decent looking lemongrass stalks recently, I decided I really needed to find a Thai tom yum (sweet and sour) soup recipe to use it in. Thus, a hearty thank you to the Food Network for providing the recipe for Araya’s Place Tom Yum Soup which is the closest and fastest I’ve ever gotten to making this dish.

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Minus the lemongrass, there are two other key seasoning ingredients you need:

  • Kaffir lime leaves? Check. Thanks to the stash in my freezer, I have this seasoning on hand.
  • Fresh galangal slices? Well… While I can usually find it at the fancy grocery store in the “big city” more than an hour away, it has a large price tag. While I know ginger is no where near close to a replacement for galangal, I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy the latter! So if you’re a Thai person or have had a lot of access to excellent Thai food, go ahead and slap my wrist. If you haven’t had much Thai food, you won’t know the difference by buying ginger and, frankly, it still tastes pretty doggone good.

Okay — my soap box moment is over.

If you can get your hands on these three key ingredients — lemongrass, keffir lime leaves, and galangal (*ahemorginger*) — make this soup! I was blown away how quickly and easy it comes together. Oh yes, and also I was quite impressed how the seasonings and saltiness where spot on. Usually I have to add more soy sauce or broth powder to be happy about something but the recipe has been perfectly seasoned every time I’ve made it since I discovered it!

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Araya’s Tom Yum Soup

Recipe courtesy of Araya’s Place/Food Network, slight adaptations to original recipe, feeds 2 really hungry people as a main course, feeds 4 as small side soups

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups vegetable broth OR 3 cups water with needed broth seasoning
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 inch piece of unpeeled ginger OR galangal, cut 3 slices vertically or on the diagonal as much as possible
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, cut 3 slices on the diagonal as much as possible
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • Half a package of tofu (approximately half of a usual 12-14 ounce package), cubed, optional
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced
  • 1/3 medium-sized onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce OR Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
  • Juice from 1 lime OR 1-2 tablespoons bottled lime juice, to taste
  • Sriracha to taste OR 10 Thai chili peppers, pounded with the edge of a knife or cooking mallet to release the flavor
  • Scant 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • Scant 1/4 cup roughly chopped green onions

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable broth to a boil. Once boiling, add the lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass and boil for 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms, tofu, tomato, onion, soy sauce, lime juice, and Sriracha/Thai chili peppers and boil for another 5 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro and green onions.

NOTE: You don’t eat the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, or ginger! If you want to be nice, pull them out before serving; otherwise, pull them out or avoid them while eating.

Recipe Notes:

  • Once in a while, I actually have vegetable broth on hand. More often than not, I use mushroom seasoning (I like the kind made by Po Lo Ku Trading the most) or some sort of vegetable broth powder/seasoning with water.
  • As I mentioned above, galangal and ginger are not the same thing and a traditionalist would be so mad at me for suggesting substitution with ginger! On the other hand, if you can’t find galangal, then ginger will have to do. As Wikipedia says, “While ginger tastes a little like galangal, most cooks who use both rhizomes would never substitute one for the other and expect the same flavor.”
  • When it comes to the main ingredients that provide the bulk to the soup (i.e. mushrooms and tofu), you’re aiming for roughly 2 cups total. Sometimes when we’ve ordered tom yum soup, we’ve asked for more vegetables and they’ll be creative and put in all sorts of things: baby corn, carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts, bok choy, etc. Use your imagination! I would recommend limiting it to 2-2.5 cups total otherwise trying to cook this soup will be similar to trying to roll up an overstuffed burrito.
  • We have cherry tomatoes on hand more than the usual sized tomatoes. I grab a handful and cut them in halves or thirds.
  • We bought a mandoline some time ago and it comes in super handy for thinly slicing onions! If you don’t have a mandoline, you’ll be fine, just cut them as thin carefully.
  • Obviously fresh lime juice is best, although bottled lime juice is a reasonable substitute. If you have bottled juice, I’d start with 1 tablespoon and work your way up from there to taste.
  • Okay, I truly NEVER have Thai chili peppers here…so any kind of Asian-like added heat works fine! Sriracha is my asian hot sauce of choice and I was pleasantly surprised. I probably use about a 1/2 tablespoon.

Lemony Red Lentil Soup

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For starters, this is not my recipe.  Thanks to Melissa Clark from the New York Times who originally described this soup in 2008, this recipe has been floating around Facebook in a more recent post on my feed.  Multiple people have shared it and one of our team members who is currently trying a vegan lifestyle made it and told me I should give it a go.

Since I fell in love with Ethiopian yemisir wat a few years ago, I tend to associate red lentils more with berbere-like spices.  I wouldn’t have thought to use tomato paste, cumin, lemon, and cilantro if it wasn’t for this recipe.

As luck would have it, I had all the ingredients on hand this weekend. I personally wouldn’t use the words “divine” or “mind blowing” for it, but rather: comforting, soothing, light, homey, tasteful.

Worth making.

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Lemony Red Lentil Soup

By Melissa Clark, adapted for oil-free cooking. Serves 4-6 people.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon salt OR mushroom seasoning, more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste
  • Pinch of cayenne, more to taste
  • 1 quart (or 4 cups) vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

DIRECTIONS:

Using a large nonstick pot, saute the onions first then add the garlic during the last minute. For oil-free cooking, add small amounts of water as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne and allow to saute for an additional 2 minutes.

Add the broth, water, lentils, and carrot.  After bringing to a boil, drop the heat down to a simmer and partially cover. Cook for an additional 30 minutes or until the lentils are soft and broken down. Taste and add more salt (or mushroom seasoning) as needed.

Using an immersion blender or a food processor, blend half the soup and return it back to the pot. You want the soup to still have some texture – don’t blend it to a puree. Stir in lemon juice and cilantro. If wanted, top with extra chopped cilantro before serving.

Recipe Notes:

  • On the recipe’s comments, someone said something about grating the carrot.  I thought about doing that but changed my mind at the last minute. I imagine it would work lovely, too.
  • This is a simple soup that would serve fine as a backdrop for multiple variations: add diced potatoes, mushrooms, canned chopped tomatoes, barley, bulgur wheat (as the Melissa’s original post describes), spinach, etc.  Of course, it’s always nice to make the original recipe before you change it too much and then say you don’t like how it turned out!

Special K Loaf, vegan

Okay, so this is totally something that goes around in Seventh-Day Adventist circles. Many of us wax poetic about the savoriness and addictive taste of it. Often people go back for seconds at potlucks. Some (ahem) have been known to eat it cold from the fridge.

But what the heck is Special K Loaf?

Basically a vegetarian version of meatloaf but made with cereal, cottage cheese, and eggs.  I know, I know, if you haven’t been in this culture, it’s totally weird sounding but surprisingly good.  Someday do a search for #specialkloaf on whatever social network you belong to and see what people say. (To sum it up, I’ve never heard anyone say it tastes bad!)

The original version, even though vegetarian, is definitely not health food. After turning vegan, I haven’t had any in a long time until a friend gave me a recipe for a vegan version that a family friend of hers came up with.  We made it – and it was good.

I’ve missed you, Special K Loaf.  I’m so happy to be able to eat you again.

No fancy pictures here, but another “brown” recipe totally worth making for potlucks or two people to eat throughout the week for lunch.

Special K Loaf, vegan

Adapted for oil-free cooking, serves 10+ people or 6 really hungry ones

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 cup or approximately 20 ounces mushrooms, diced or sliced
  • 2 cups cooked oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup dairy-free milk
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or Braggs Liquid Aminos
  • 1 flax seed “egg” = 3 tablespoons water + 1 tablespoon ground flax seed mixed together
  • 1 14-ounce container of tofu, drained and crumbled
  • 1 1/2 cup walnuts and/or pecans, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon vegan chicken or vegetable broth seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons salt OR mushroom seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons vegan beef broth seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 6 cups plain Special K cereal (ahhh, not technically vegan! No fear, you can use) corn flakes

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Saute onion and mushrooms. For oil-free cooking, use a nonstick pan and add a little water while sautéing as needed to prevent vegetables from sticking. When done, set aside.

Mix oatmeal with milk, add sautéed onions and mushrooms. Add all remaining ingredients and mix.

Place mixture in an ungreased 9″ x 13″ casserole pan, smooth the surface. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour, then remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes.  You can serve it immediately or wait for it to cool.  Freezes well if needed.

Recipe Notes:

  • If you don’t want to dirty another dish, use raw onions and uncooked mushrooms! I personally haven’t tried it but it’s a very forgiving dish and can’t see this being a problem.
  • The amount of mushrooms is completely flexible.  I’ve used an entire container of mushrooms from Costco before (24 ounces).  If you can only find 8 ounces, then go for it.
  • As for the oatmeal, I’ve used all kinds: quick oats, steel cut oats, etc. It always tastes good whatever I’ve used!
  • For the non-salty seasonings (i.e. not the broth seasonings), you’re welcome to add more if you’d like. No exact measurements needed here.
  • I’ve always been generous with the “6 cups Special K corn flakes cereal” and, if you haven’t figured it out already, it turns out just fine.
  • After mixing all the ingredients together, make sure you taste it!  It’ll boil down to this: does it need more salt?  At this point, soy sauce (or Braggs Liquid Aminos) will be easier to blend into the mixture than plain salt.  If it’s too salty, then add more Special K corn flakes cereal.
  • Since finding out Special K technically isn’t vegan, as you saw above, you can use plain (unsweetened) corn flakes (yes, there’s sugar content but you can’t really tell). The texture is a little different but tastes just as good.

Easy Spanish Rice

Over a decade ago when I was working as an x-ray technologist at a large hospital in southern California, a co-worker told me how she made Spanish rice.  I have always remembered the simple ratios for the recipe’s backbone that she told me: approximately 1 can of tomato sauce, 2 cups of rice, 4 cups of broth.

Another co-worker made Spanish rice that I tasted and I remember thinking it was *the best* I’d ever tasted before – and this is from someone who grew up in southern California and was quite familiar with the tastes of authentic Hispanic flavors.  Her particular secret?  Using chicken broth instead of water. spanishrice1h With these pieces of recipe advice in mind, I tried making Spanish rice for the first time ever myself back then.  Naturally, it took a few batches to be satisfied with the final result.  During the process, I learned:

  • You really need to brown the rice, not just think it’s a little brown
  • It’s okay to make something without exact measurements
  • I finally figured out how to not burn the bottom of the rice on the stove

Since becoming vegan at home and deciding to cook without oil or with as little as possible, my original recipe for Spanish rice has morphed a bit to accommodate our eating habits.  I used to use a lot of olive oil during the browning of the rice; now I use none at all or just the teeniest drizzle.  I used to use a vegetarian broth mix (McKay’s Chicken Seasoning) but after learning it’s not vegan (darn that milk whey), I’ve switched over to using a combination of mushroom seasoning and vegetable broth seasoning. spanishrice2vmaybe spanishrice3h Unfortunately, red is a notoriously hard color to photograph, hence these pictures don’t look that nice.  Considering that I don’t have exact measurements for the spices here, it may take a couple of tries to get the flavor to your taste.  But heck, when you do get it right, it’s an easy meal made when you also open up a can of black beans, cut up some lettuce, and eat it all mishmashed together with salsa and chips. spanishrice4h

Easy Spanish Rice

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups of jasmine rice (see notes)
  • Oil, optional
  • 1 medium sized onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (OR 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • Ground cumin
  • Cayenne
  • Broth powder/seasoning
  • 1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1 4-ounce can of mild or hot diced chilies, drained (optional)
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth (OR vegan chicken-flavored broth)

DIRECTIONS:

Using a wide pan or skillet on medium high-high heat, place the rice inside (and a small drizzle of oil, if wanted) and keep moving it around every 20-30 seconds or so until it’s uncomfortably browned.  Add in the onion, garlic; stir it into the rice so it starts the sautéing process.  Add a few light shakes of cumin, even less of cayenne, and a decent amount of extra broth powder (this is completely eyeballed) to the rice as it’s further browning the onions and garlic.  Keep stirring until the onion and garlic is sautéed. Add the tomato sauce, chilies if using, and broth to pan and mix.  Cover the pan and bring to a simmer for 20-25 minutes.

At the end of that time, peek under the lid and check if the rice appears to be done; if not, replace lid and leave on low for another 5 minutes.  After that, turn the heat off and let the pan sit covered for an additional 5 minutes before taking the lid off and fluffing the rice.  If the rice seems still a little wet, keep the lid off and leave the heat on low for another 5 minutes.  I know this is a lot of “5 minutes” but it works, promise!

Recipe Notes:

  • I grew up on jasmine rice and so I always use jasmine rice for anything that calls for “white rice.”  I’m sure you can use another white rice, as long as it’s not a “quick cooking” type (i.e. Uncle Ben’s brand).
  • I tend to only use red onions these days for the amount of antioxidants they have versus what can be found in white or yellow onions.  In my opinion, it doesn’t seem to affect the taste.
  • I’ve found that using actual liquid broth (i.e. canned or boxed vegetable broth) results in the best final flavor.  If I only have powdered broth that needs to be mixed myself, I add water in the amount of liquid called for and then also stir in broth powder that’s needed for that amount of liquid.
  • When browning the rice, keep a close eye on it – it can burn quick!  It’ll take a while for the pan to get up to the right heat, but once it does, keep moving things around until the rice is (in your opinion) uncomfortably brown.  At that point you’ll add in the spices and onions and it’ll brown even more.  Don’t be afraid of browning the rice too much – that’s where all the nutty good flavor comes from.  Of course, there is a distinct difference between browning rice and burning it altogether!

Cauliflower Fettuccine Alfredo

I know, cauliflower and fettuccine in the same title just doesn’t sound possible, let alone good.

It surprisingly is!

I can’t take any sort of credit whatsoever for this recipe.  But I love it, Angela Liddon has it posted online for free, so I want to have it here on my little blog as a reminder of what I enjoy making and eating:

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One of our staff told my husband and I how she tried making this recipe and was floored over it.  She basically had us pinkie-swear that we’d make it as soon as possible.

So we did.

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We decided to top it with simply steamed zucchini (roasted would’ve been more decadent and ideal if I had planned accordingly) and arugula with cucumbers on the side.  Also, since we’ve been on a major antioxidant and phytonutrient kick and found out that spices are an excellent source of them, we strayed from the traditional flavors a tad and sprinkled on oregano and crushed red pepper.

I know cauliflower has a very distinct and, oh, strong aroma when cooked, but you really don’t notice it or it doesn’t bother you when eating.  If you reheat this dish the next day in the microwave, you’ll get a good whiff of that cauliflower smell, but the dish still tastes as good and is as creamy as it was the day before!

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Cauliflower Fettuccine Alfredo

Slight adaptations from Angela Liddon’s recipe, serves 4 easily

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 heaping cups cauliflower florets (1 small to medium cauliflower head)
  • 2 medium to large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened and unflavored non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (or 1 scant tablespoon of bottled lemon juice concentrate)
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon pepper, to taste
  • Fettuccine or pasta shape of your choice (we used a 13.25 ounce box of rotini here)
  • Minced fresh parsley or other herb for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Add cauliflower florets in a large pot and cover with water, bring to a low boil. Once boiling, cook for another 3-7 minutes until fork tender then drain.  Meanwhile, use a small amount of water to sauté the minced garlic over low heat for 4-5 minutes until softened and fragrant, but not browned.

In a high speed blender (preferably Vitamix or Blentec), add the cooked and drained cauliflower, sautéed garlic, milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Blend until a super smooth sauce forms, don’t be afraid to let it run for while until the texture is right. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add your desired amount of pasta and boil for the time instructed on the package, then drain.  Add the cauliflower sauce into the same pot and add the drained pasta back into it. Heat over low-medium until heated enough to your liking. Salt again to taste (the pasta dilutes the flavor).  Serve with fresh minced parsley and black pepper. Feel free to add in your favorite sautéed or roasted vegetables.

Recipe Notes:

  • Sometimes we don’t even sauté the garlic, but I’ll cut the amount called for in half and throw the single garlic clove straight in the blender fresh.  As you’re aware, sometimes some garlic can be SUPER strong but (1) that’s hardly ever the case unless you’re using fresh garlic from Romania (it was spicy!) and (2) we love garlic anyway.
  • Like mentioned in the ingredients, we usually boil an entire box (13.25 ounces) of pasta and there is more than enough sauce in this recipe to cover all of it more than adequately.
  • The first time I made this, I didn’t salt it enough at the very end before serving.  It was good, but it hadn’t quite reached that peak amount of flavor due to the slight lack of salt.  Lesson learned again: always, always, always taste and season accordingly when you’re cooking.

Creamy Curried Greens and Chickpeas

Do you know what palak paneer is?  It’s an Indian curry dish consisting primarily of spinach and cheese.  SO GOOD.  But man, I never felt good after having it.  On the rare occasion I happen to have the pleasure of eating at an actual Indian restaurant (which is basically never in Montana), I give in and have a little…but always gastrointestinally regret it later.

While browsing Susan Voisin’s site, some time ago I ran across her recipe for creamy curried kale and chickpeas.  Reading through it more, I realized that the title was actually code for “vegan palak paneer.”  I had my doubts, but after making it, I was blown away: it’s a fantastic vegan version!

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As you can see, I used spinach, not kale, in the photos above.  I’ve used all spinach before, all kale, or a combination of the two.  I tend to buy the huge containers of spinach from Costco and this recipe is a great way to get through it all before it spoils!  Whatever you choose to use for the greens, the flavor is still good and it’s always packed full of antioxidants and phytonutrients.

Enough talk – go make this recipe right away!

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Creamy Curried Kale and Chickpeas

Slightly adapted from Fat Free Vegan, serves 6 easily with another filling starch like brown rice

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger root, minced/grated (OR 1 teaspoon powdered ginger)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (OR 1 scant teaspoon of ground cumin)
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 cups chopped kale and/or spinach, packed
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup unsweetened soymilk or other non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, optional
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained
  • Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  (If cooking oil-free, place a small amount of water in the pan that doesn’t completely cover the bottom and keep a cup full of water nearby for adding more as needed.)  Add onion and cook until softened and beginning to brown, 4-5 minutes, adding small splashes of water if needed to prevent sticking.  Add the garlic, ginger, and cumin and cook for 1 minute.  Add the remaining spices and cook for another minute, stirring constantly to prevent burning.

Reduce heat to medium.  Stir in the kale and/or spinach and vegetable broth.  Cover and cook until the greens are bright and tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the greens are cooking, put the following in the blender and puree until smooth: milk, cashews, nutritional yeast, and tomato paste.  When the greens are done cooking, add them to the blender and blend until smooth or until the texture is to your liking.

Transfer the blended mixture back to the skillet and bring to a simmer.  Check seasonings and add more to taste.  Stir in the drained chickpeas and continue simmering for about 10 minutes.  Add salt to taste and serve over rice.

Recipe Notes:

  • I keep grated ginger on hand in the freezer.  What used to happen is that I’d buy more ginger than needed, grate and use a small portion, then completely forget about the rest of it until it’s withered and completely unrecognizable.  (On top of that, I despise grating ginger!)  Here’s my tip for you: buy a huge piece of ginger, grate it all at once, and freeze them in long and skinny pieces rolled in wax paper and stored in a freezer bag.  Now whenever I need a piece, I break off the approximate amount needed, quickly get it thawed, and/or throw in straight into the pan and start using it.
  • I hardly use vegetable broth these days.  I usually throw in the liquid amount called for using water instead and then add the amount of mushroom seasoning or powdered vegetable broth needed for that amount of liquid.
  • If you don’t have a fancy blender (i.e. Vitamix or Blendtec), get in the practice of always soaking your cashews for at least 6 hours before using them – overnight is better.  If you’re short on time, the best I can recommend is soaking them in boiling hot water for a long as you’re able.  It may take a while for the cashews to get smooth, but as long as they’re soaked enough, they will get smooth even when trying to blend them in a food processor.
  • I have so many cans of tomato paste (I keep buying them because I keep thinking I’ll use them!) but I find I tend to only need a tablespoon or two at a time.  Based on this, I’ve started to buy tubes of tomato paste (I can easily find them at Walmart) since it’s a lot easier to keep in the fridge.
  • Once I made this way ahead of time, which means the chickpeas were lightly simmering and warming in the pan for a lot longer than 10 minutes.  Because of this increased cooking time, the beans became soft and much more reminiscent of paneer in regards to texture!  If you have the time and you like the texture of paneer, I’d recommend this route and allow it to simmer/stay warm for 30 minutes before eating.

My (low-fat vegan) fast food wish comes true

One of the guilty little pleasures that I used to indulge in once or twice a year was a large order of Jack-In-The-Box seasoned curly fries and their buttermilk ranch dressing to dip it in.  While it still sounds (mostly) good to me, I do remember afterward having to continually clear my throat due to all the phlegm that I’d get from eating so much oil at once.

Now that I finally figured out how to make satisfactory crispy and fat free oven fries, I decided to take on those seasoned Jack-In-The-Box fries I used to have and see if it can also be made just as delicious and crispy without any of the fat.

Guess what?  It can be done.  Oh so deliciously done.

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I promise, you can make french fries in the oven without any oil that are just as crispy as fried ones.  Bonus: no continual clearing of your throat because there’s no fat involved.

I like to leave the skins on my potatoes unless they’re looking pretty gross.  (If that’s the case, the whole potato probably is bad.)  I finally gave in to buying a little vegetable scrubber which, in my opinion, is somewhat superfluous to have, but when you like to leave the skin on, you won’t find me complaining about it’s price and the minimal amount of space it takes up!photo 1photo 3One trick I’ve learned to getting fries crispy when baking is to get rid of some of the starch in the potatoes.  The particular method I found that works well for me is to let the potatoes sit in water that was/is boiling for two minutes.  (I’ve seen others who make hot water and let potatoes soak in it for 15+ minutes.)  If you want to skip this step, at least rinse the potatoes really well after cutting to remove that superficial layer of starch that turns the potatoes brown (and not in the crispy way you like them brown).

photo 4While crispy, fat-free oven baked fries are easy enough to do, the biggest draw back is the amount of space you need if you want to get them done right.  Ideally you want the fries to be completely spaced out and not touching each other when going into the oven – this will ensure a prompt cooking time and crispy fries.  If you don’t space them out, they’ll cook (though likely still won’t stick to one another) but it’s going to take a while to get them all done.  So if you have multiple baking sheets and a big enough oven, simply make this process easier on yourself and just utilize all the surface area you can!photo 5

photo 2

Seasoned Crispy French Fries

Makes two large baking sheets of fries that aren’t touching, good for 3 people as a side dish or just barely enough for 2 hungry people as the main dish

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 medium-sized russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 vegan “egg”, paste-like (i.e. Ener-G Egg Replacer egg = 1.5 tbsp powder + 2 tbsp water OR ground flax seed egg = 1 tbsp flax + 2 tbsp water) OR 2 tablespoons aquafaba
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • Scant 1/2 tsp cayenne

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 deg F.  Place a pot of water on high heat to start warming the water, you want enough water so that the potatoes will be submerged.  Cut potatoes into french fry-sized pieces.  Once the pot of water has reached a rolling boil, place the potatoes in the water for 2 minutes then immediately drain and dry with paper towels or a kitchen towel.  (As soon as you put the potatoes in the boiling water, the boiling may temporarily stop, but that’s okay – still only let them sit in the pot for 2 minutes.)

If using a vegan “egg”, mix it in a large bowl then add in the remaining ingredients and mix until it reaches a paste-like consistency that slowly runs when you tip the bowl on its side.  (Add only a tiny splash of water at a time and mix until the consistency is right.)  If using aquafaba, add it and the seasonings in a large bowl and mix till combined.  Put the potatoes in the bowl and toss to coat.

Place the coated potatoes on two parchment paper-lined baking sheets without letting them touch.  Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the sheet, bake another 8-10 minutes, flip and turn the fries, and bake in 3-5 minute increments until done (see notes regarding baking time).  You know they’re done when the fries look a bit puffy and deformed from their originally flat-sided shape.  Remove from the oven and enjoy on their own, with ketchup, or vegan ranch dressing!

 Recipe Notes:

  • Okay, I confess: I personally haven’t tried making this with the ground flax seed “egg” yet.  But with my experience using flax seed as an egg replacement, my brain says it should work!
  • Have you heard of aquafaba? It hit the vegan work with a bang in the spring of this year (2015). It can be used mostly as a egg/egg white replacer! Why I say “mostly” is because it works in most instances, but not all (no one has perfected angel food cake with it as of today, 10/16/15). On the other hand, it’s being used for all sorts of foods, like: meringue, macarons, macaroons (yes, there’s a difference), mayo, ice cream, egg wash, binder in quick breads and cookies, emulsifier in dressings, etc.
  • If you want to make less or more than 3 medium-sized potatoes, you can!  Just use enough baking sheets so that the potatoes are spaced out and not touching.  The total baking time depends on your oven, baking sheet, how thick you cut the fries, and if the fries are touching or not.  Long story short?  Keep an eye on the oven so you don’t get burned fries!  Also cutting them as evenly as possible is helpful.  And I mentioned this above, but you know the fries are done when the sides start to puff out.
  • I’ve found out that not all baking sheets are created equal and one of my sheets will completely burn a few fries at the 20 minute mark while the other doesn’t quite get there after 24 minutes.
  • Once I tried boiling the potatoes for 3-4 min and though they were still good, they didn’t have that ideal separate crispy exterior with a soft interior like they did when I boiled them for two minutes exactly.  I surprisingly had to bake them a lot longer than 20-25 min total to be happy with them, though this is likely because I crowded 4 cut potatoes onto one baking sheet.

Everyone needs a go-to stir fry recipe

Being of Asian descent, you’d think it would be ingrained in me as how to make a good stir fry.  Not so, my friend.  Sure, I’m ethnically Indonesian, but that doesn’t mean much when you’re born and raised in the States, even if your mom did most of the cooking when you were a child.

More than three decades of life later, I finally decided it was time to figure this out and am happy to report: I have found my stir fry mojo.

photo 2

When you live in a small town in Montana that has nary a stop light on the main drag – not even a stop sign – you find out real fast that if you want some ethnic cooking, you’re gonna have to do it yourself.

To me, getting the seasoning, the sauce, the heart of the recipe correct is the biggest goal because the ingredients that the flavor envelopes can be (mostly) substituted, even with what are considered non-traditional food items.  I’ve tried following recipes before and they’ve turned out fine, but the seasoning of my previous stir fry attempts have never reached that just-so seasoning sweet spot for me.  I’ve used hoisin, mirin, soy sauce, sesame seed oil, just about everything, but something has never been quite right.  What am I missing?

photo 3

I did some research online and decided to get back to the basics, something salty and sweet: only using soy sauce (or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos) and sugar for the seasoning.  That first attempt at the basics turned out surprisingly well!  Then I took another look in my pantry and found a couple of bottles of kecap manis, Indonesian sweet soy sauce, that my mom had gifted me when I moved.  Well, why don’t I use that since it’s has both soy sauce and sugar in it together?

photo 4

Thus was born the heart of my current stir fry flavoring.  For a single serving, I start with a few slow swirls of kecap manis (say: KEH-chahp MAHN-ees), a quick circle or two of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, sometimes a small shake of mushroom seasoning for enhanced umami, and plenty of Sriracha because we like it toasty in this household.  When I remember or if I’m feeling slightly indulgent, I’ll add the slightest drizzle of sesame oil (less than 1/8 teaspoon) though I’ll only do this just before serving otherwise the heat completely removes the flavor.

Our Costco (more than an hour drive away, mind you) used to sell these fantastic packets of fresh udon noodles by Annie Chun that would last a long time.  Sadly, they’re no longer carried there.  Thankfully my parents and brother road tripped it up recently and brought me packets of fresh noodles that can used on a whim or frozen for later!  I like single serving fresh noodle packs because it takes the guesswork out of how many noodles are needed.

photo 5I’ve tried seasoning the vegetables first then adding the noodles last, or making the sauce right in the pan before putting anything in – you name it – and I still like to season the noodles first similar to how I learned how to make pad thai oh so long ago.  After mixing the seasoning and coating the noodles with the sauce, the vegetables that take the longest to cook go in first; the ones that are quick to cook, last (usually ends up being the rest of the vegetables).

I prefer to cook without oil in a non-stick pan but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to leave it out.  If you do want to try cooking with water, it’s not hard though the key is to have a cup of warm water nearby to continually add to the pan before the food starts sticking.

It took me a while, but the sauce really comes together at the very end when you let as much of the water boil off as you can dare.  When cooking with oil, this isn’t so bad, but with only water?  Make sure you’re constantly moving the food around in the pan to aid in the water evaporation and to prevent the food from sticking – this part always happens faster than I think it will!  Have a bowl or plate ready to be a temporary home for the stir fry on its way to your belly.

photo 6

photo 1

My Signature Veggie Stir Fry

Makes one generous serving

INGREDIENTS:

  • Glass of warm water on hand
  • 1 packet of cooked noodles
  • Kecap manis (*see recipe notes if you don’t have this*)
  • Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or another soy sauce/substitute
  • Mushroom seasoning, optional
  • Sriracha hot sauce or other chili sauce, optional
  • Your choice of vegetables; or what I used in the photos:
    • About 2 handfuls of broccoli, bite-size pieces
    • 4-5 mushrooms, sliced or quartered
    • 4-5 asparagus, bite-size pieces
    • Handful of cut bell peppers, bite-size pieces
    • A few thin slices of red cabbage
  • Toasted sesame oil, optional
  • Green onions for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Add water to your favorite non-stick pan/skillet/wok so the bottom is just covered by a thin layer of water (this is the amount you’re aiming to keep it at during the whole session – except at the very end! – for oil-free cooking).  Place the pan on med-high to high heat.  (As you’re waiting for the water to reach almost boiling, this is the time to start loosening up your packet up fresh noodles with warm water.  Sometimes I fill a bowl with hot water and put the packet in it to soak up the warmth before opening.)  When the water is almost boiling, add the noodles to the pan and keep turning and flipping it in order to gently break it up.  You’ll keep adding water to the pan during this process.  If the noodles aren’t loosening up fast enough (this should only take a couple of minutes max), then turn up the heat and continue adding water as needed.  Once the noodles are practically all loose, add the seasonings: 2-3 slow swirls of kecap manis, a quick squirt of Bragg’s, and quick shake of mushroom seasoning (latter is optional).  If you like it hot, add the Sriracha now (I usually do 3 or more quick swirls of this because I like it spicy).  Quickly mix the seasonings to coat the noodles; be sure to add more water as needed.

Add the vegetables that will need more time to cook; keep adding water as needed and move things around every 30 seconds or so to check the water level and make sure things don’t stick.  When the first group of vegetables are halfway done or more, add the rest of them and continue to check and add water.  When the last group of vegetables is almost cooked, add the tiniest drizzle of toasted sesame oil (optional), turn the heat up if it’s not already all the way up, and keep stirring until practically all the water is gone in order to thicken the sauce (see recipe notes).

Quickly turn off the heat and plate the stir fry.   Add any garnishing as needed and devour as soon as it’s cool enough to eat!

Recipe Notes:

  • If you can find some fresh, vacuum-packed noodles, more power to you – just give them a rinse in warm to hot water then in the pan it goes.  Like I mentioned above, I usually let the unopened noodle packets soak in a bowl of hot water before I get started.  If you only have access to dry noodles, then cook them according to the directions and drain them.
  • If you can’t get your hands on a bottle of kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce), then go back to the basics and use your usual soy sauce and add some sort of sugar to the pan (brown, white, honey, I wonder if maple syrup would work?).  I’d start with a scant teaspoon but that may be my personal “manis” preference talking.
  • When it comes to what order to cook the vegetables in, I always start with broccoli first.  I used to add mushrooms first, too, but found out I eventually liked them just cooked and still big and juicy rather than very cooked and shrunken in size.  I like my broccoli just cooked and still bright green, so I only let them sautee in the noodles and sauce for a minute or two before adding the other vegetables.
  • If you’re hesitant about letting much of the water evaporate at the very end in order to thicken the sauce, that’s okay, it’ll just be on the runny side.  I personally like the sauce thicker (with minimal water) so it more evenly coats the stir fry but it took me a few tries before I figured out how to do this without making everything stick to the pan!
  • Making a stir fry has become one of my go-to ways for cleaning out the fridge.  Other dishes that help clean out the fridge?  Everything Thai curry and making your own chunky spaghetti sauce with leftover vegetables.
  • If you have a big enough pan or wok, you could make more than one (generous) serving at a time.  If there’s too much crowding, as in the items are piled up so high in the pan that you have a hard time stirring without spilling anything, then you’re making too much at once.  If I had a larger pan/wok, I probably would do double servings but it’s so relatively fast to make a single batch that it’s not a big deal for me to do one at a time.

Nacho cheese and ranch dressing? Done.

Vegan and low-no fat, to boot.

IMG_0578Green lentils and jasmine rice with vegan Cafe Rio dressing and steamed broccoli with nacho cheese sauce

Let’s start with the nacho cheese.

A couple of months ago, I decided to check out Susan’s Fat Free Vegan site again and, low and behold, I ran across her fat free recipe for nacho cheese.  I kid you not, this is the best vegan nacho cheese I’ve ever had!  The texture is even uncannily similar to “regular” nacho cheese.  Other than the fact that it doesn’t work well when you put it on nachos that you heat up in the oven (it ends up running every where), this stuff is truly amazing.  I’ve made my own little tweaks to her recipe which you can find in the notes.

IMG_3233

Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce

by Susan of Fat Free Vegan

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup plain, sugar-free non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup mashed yams (sweet potatoes work, too)
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 -3/4 teaspoon salt (optional or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Chipotle powder or cayenne, to taste (optional)
  • 1 10-ounce can Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Chilies, drained and liquid reserved

PEPPER JACK-LIKE VERSION Modifications:

  • Double the entire recipe
  • Replace half or all of the mashed yams with russet potatoes (half the sub will give you better color)
  • Replace the can of Rotel with approximately 8-10 ounces of canned diced green chilies

DIRECTIONS:

Put all ingredients except Rotel tomatoes and chipotle into the blender.  Blend at high speed until smooth.  Pour into a saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, over medium-high heat until boiling.  Reduce heat to low and continue cooking and stirring until mixture becomes very thick.  Stir in the drained tomatoes.  If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved tomato liquid.  Check seasoning, and add chipotle powder to taste if you like it spicier.
Serve with burritos, tacos, nachos, steamed vegetables, potatoes, you name it.

 

Recipe Notes:
  • I usually make a double batch.  I also don’t specifically use mashed yams; I microwave a clean, poked yam until cooked (5-8 minutes) and add the rough amount called for.  After blending, if it doesn’t have that nice golden color typical of nacho cheese, I’ll sometimes put in another small chunk of cooked yam and blend again.
  • A friend of mine has made her sauce a few times with sweet potatoes (not yams) and says it tastes good (at the very least, it sure smelled good to me).  Just remember that the sauce won’t be as golden colored.
  • I’ve used both fresh and bottled lemon juice.  Fresh is obviously better but bottled is fine.  The catch: bottled tends to be stronger so I usually put in just under the amount called for.
  • Make sure you let the sauce reach boiling where it starts to form bubbles!  That’s when the magic happens and the sauce changes from runny and slightly chalky tasting to thick and smooth.  The difference will be fairly obvious as you’re stirring.
  • If you don’t stir constantly, the sauce can end up lumpy.  Minus presentation points, this is not that big of a deal because it still tastes the same.
  • I don’t have chipotle powder so I’ve used varying combinations of cayenne and chili powder before.  Sometimes I don’t use it at all.  It depends on the Rotel you use – the first time I made this with Rotel, I had the plain kind (i.e. no heat associated with it) so it needed some cayenne.  Other times I’ve used mild Rotel and that alone is plenty.
  • The very very first time I made this sauce, I actually didn’t have any Rotel.  I substituted with Costco brand salsa and it turned out different but great!  Actually my favorite thing to do is, when I make a double batch, to use one can of mild Rotel (I hardly ever drain it because the sauce is usually so thick) and add Costco salsa to taste.
  • Some friends of ours usually make this sauce without the added can of Rotel because, so they tell me, they can’t find any.  By all means, the sauce without the tomatoes and chilies is perfectly fine by itself but the Rotel (or salsa) brings it up to a whole different level!

— — — —

Now onto the vegan ranch dressing.  Specifically, a vegan version of Cafe Rio‘s house ranch, their Creamy Tomatillo Dressing.

Growing up in Southern California, I’ve been swept up in the whole Chipotle restaurant movement and wanting to go there for food on a weekly basis (and sometimes getting close to that).  To my chagrin, nary a Chipotle existed in Montana when we moved here – but we did spot a Cafe Rio.  We decided to finally try it one day with mediocre expectations and, to our surprise, actually walked away with the conclusion that we liked it better than Chipotle!  I know, blasphemy!, you’re thinking.  But we have taken several friends there or convinced them to go to one where they live and they all have come up with the same conclusion!

My favorite item at Cafe Rio is their vegetarian salad.  Now how I order it, it’s definitely not vegan (read: cheese!) but it’s so amazing and a rare treat that I’m willing to go that route.  Now the thing that takes the salad just over the top is the Creamy Tomatillo Dressing you can get with it.  So good – but so not vegan and my body can tell this is the case a few hours after eating there.

IMG_0595Quart jar with vegan Cafe Rio dressing

Recently while waiting for a roasted potato to finish, I had an instant craving and desire for this dressing on the finished product.  I ran a quick search online and came across a recipe posted on Good Clean Food that worked out for me.  There are two listed recipes there (the first with very low fat, the second with much more) and I made the first one.  (11/21/14 Update: I recently tried making a tofu version because, let’s face it, I wanted to make an even creamier version to try out on meat-eaters. They loved it – and it was so very creamy! I’ve included in below.) Here’s my take on it:

Vegan Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Dressing

Adapted from Good Clean Food, makes approximately 2 1/2 to 3 cups (almost fills a quart jar)

INGREDIENTS, tofu-free version:

  • 1 1/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 3 tomatillos, quartered
  • 2-4 smashed cloves of garlic (depends on how strong your garlic is)
  • 1 jalapeño or less, deseeded (unless you want some heat!)
  • 1/3 cup raw cashews
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1 3/4 tablespoons (aka scant 2 tbsp) chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Spike seasoning OR onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • A few shakes to 1/8 teaspoon of xanthan or guar gum (optional)
  • 2 roughly chopped green onions
  • 1/2 cup packed cilantro

INGREDIENTS, tofu version:

  • 1 12-ounce package extra-firm silken tofu (the vacuum-packed kind, such as Mori-Nu), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 3 tomatillos, quartered
  • 1 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2-4 smashed cloves of garlic (depends on how strong your garlic is)
  • 2 roughly chopped green onions
  • 1/2 cup packed cilantro
  • 1/2 – 1 jalapeño or less, deseeded (unless you want some heat!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Spike seasoning OR onion powder

DIRECTIONS:

If making the tofu version: blanching the tofu first helps take away some of the “beany” taste. Bring water to a boil, add the tofu cubes, bring to a simmer and let cook for 2 minutes, then drain.

Except green onions and cilantro, blend (hopefully in a Vitamix or Blentec) all ingredients till combined.  Make sure it’s blended well enough that the cashews don’t make it grainy but rather are completely smooth. Add in green onions and cilantro, blend until just finely minced (presentation points).

Goes well with salads, a mayonnaise substitute for sandwiches, drizzled over potatoes, mixed in with mashed potatoes, with soft tacos – use your imagination!

Recipe Notes:

  • If you don’t have a Vitamix or Blentec, the cashews are going to work best if you soak them for 6-8 hours or more. If you’re running out of time, boil the cashews for at 2 minutes and let sit in the hot water for as long as you can. At that point, even a food processor should do okay.
  • The first time I made this, I had absolutely no fresh ingredients and wildly substituted the tomatillos, cilantro, and green onions with canned green chilies and pickled jalapeños – it still worked!
  • Most of the time, I throw in an extra green onion and/or eyeball a generous amount of cilantro.  Because, truly?  More herbs = more flavor.
  • That first time I made this, on a whim I also added nutritional yeast to enhance the creamy factor.  It worked out so well that I made this a permanent addition.  I’m guessing I’ve used approximately 1/4 cup each time.  You can certainly add more or less of it.
  • Update on 6/17/14: I made our most recent batch with a fresh jalapeño instead of my previously listed “4-8 pickled jalapeño slices (optional).”  We like eating things on the spicy side so I also threw in half of the seeds – that’s where the heat comes from!  For us, it was the right amount of spicy warmth and the dressing didn’t have the slight bitter taste to it like it does when pickled jalapeño slices are used.
  • After blending, let it sit for a minute and then check the thickness.  If still on the runny side, add 1 tsp of chia seeds or ground flax seed, blend, and let sit for another minute before checking thickness again.  It will significantly thicken up after refrigerating but you definitely don’t want it runny before that.
  • I once bought xanthan gum for trying out lemon meringue pie with aquafaba and found out that it’s usually used as a food thickening agent, usually in salad dressings. I found out that the ingredients are very less likely to separate after sitting in the fridge for a few days when using it!
  • Sometimes this recipe makes more than a quart jar, sometimes less.  It mostly to depend on the size of the tomatillos.  When I end up with a lot and after tasting, it’s always felt like it needed more salt and lime juice; when it’s a smaller batch, I hardly have to adjust these flavors.  Lesson learned: never forget to taste to check the seasonings!

IMG_0580Breakfast sandwich with chickpea breakfast scramble, vegan Cafe Rio dressing and lettuce

My fat free/low fat vegan lifestyle has taken a wonderful turn with discovering these two recipes.  I make these on almost a weekly basis because either recipe can be eaten with just about anything!