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Doing the Southern Thing

“Savannah is amazing with the town squares and the hanging moss and the French Colonial houses. It’s brutally romantic.” – David Morrissey


River Street, Savannah, GA

Last summer, I went on vacation to visit friends and family up and down the east coast. My southernmost stop was Savannah, GA, a city that was totally new to me. I fell completely and totally in love with this city, from her oppressively humid nights redolent with the smells of salt marsh and flowers to her gracious inhabitants. I also fell in love with southern food.

A friend called me up one morning at 7:00 and asked me to meet him for breakfast. He was just getting off his shift at the firehouse and wanted to eat before he headed home. So we met at a restaurant on River Street (pictured above) and sat at the worn wooden bar. He ordered a Bloody Mary and we got two plates of shrimp and grits. It was the one dish that I had on my “must try” list, and if breakfast was a good time to have it, I was game. When I put the first forkful of warm, creamy, cheesy grits into my mouth, I thought I might swoon. It was the ultimate comfort food, and exceeded all my expectations. I couldn’t get enough! I remember giving him some of my shrimp, because the meal became all about the grits for me.

Since returning home, I’ve tried recreating that unbelievable plate of grits. I’m not there yet (I suspect they used some shrimp stock in theirs), but this is a passable version. There are a lot of recipes that call for using milk instead of water, but I don’t love it that way – it’s too creamy. If you want to go that route, start with half milk (unsweetened almond milk) and half stock and adjust to taste from there. I’ve added chopped spinach, which is completely optional. Let the grits cool in a mold for slicing and sauteing or add a little extra water for a softer version.


Cheesy Spinach Grits

serves 4 as a side dish

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp. Better than Bouillon vegetable bouillon paste
  • 1/2 cup white grits, not instant
  • 1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 3/4 – 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (use Daiya if going vegan)
  • a palmful of parmesan or vegan parmesan cheese
  1. In a medium sized saucepan, bring water and bouillon paste to a boil over high heat. Whisk in grits, reduce heat to low, and cover.
  2. Cook 12 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent lumps. Uncover and add cheeses and spinach, stirring to incorporate well.
  3. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if desired (I found the salt in the bouillon was adequate). Pour into molds and chill or eat right away.
  4. To reheat, cut cakes out of the molded cold grits. Melt Earth Balance or butter in a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a teaspoon or so of oil. Add grit cakes and fry until golden brown and warm.

These are good any time of day or night.

As always, comments are welcome!

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Comfort sweets

Picture 1

The other day, after dropping my daughter off in Cambridge, MA, I was hit with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The first time I left her in Cambridge, she was a high school junior about to study calculus at Harvard University for the summer. I cried my eyes out on the Mass Pike on the way back to New York, begging and pleading the powers that be to keep her safe. She was fine and earned 8 college credits.

Now she’s nearly 21 years old and going into her junior year at college as a physics major. She is a remarkable young woman, full of promise and potential. I offer this recipe to you because it was one of our favorites before she became a vegan. It’s based on the Famous Amos recipe from the 1980s, and, yes, vegans can substitute any egg replacer for the eggs. We’ve done it with great results.

A note about the ‘lumps’ ingredient. This could be any combination of candy chips (chocolate, butterscotch, coconut, M&Ms, etc.) and dried fruits. You are limited only by your imagination. If you are a vegan, know that Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips are vegan. Yay!

Sorta-Famous Amos Cookies

  • 2 sticks softened butter or Earth Balance vegan margarine (1 cup), softened
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. water (omit if you use large eggs)
  • 2 medium sized eggs
  • 2.5 cups all-purpose flour (whole wheat pastry is fine)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3.5 cups lumps
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Beat butter/margarine, sugars, vanilla, water and eggs with electric mixer until creamy and thoroughly blended. Sift together flour, soda and salt and add to wet mixture. Dump in lumpy stuff and mix until well distributed.
  3. Measure dough by spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets (works great if you have parchment paper). Allow about 1.5 – 2 inches between dough balls. Bake for 8 minutes for teaspoon sized cookies, longer for bigger ones, or until golden and done to your liking. A tablespoon sized scoop takes about 11-12 minutes to my liking.

Enjoy these cookies with the people you love. Life’s too short not to eat chocolate!

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snoopy_chocolate chips

Summer Bounty

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?” – John Steinbeck

A few summers ago, we went to visit my mother-in-law at her summer home in upstate New York. The weather may or may not have been perfect; I don’t recall. There may or may not have been other people visiting; I don’t recall. I may or may not have had a good visit; I really don’t recall. What I do remember is that one evening she brought a pie to the dinner table and the angels sang.

My mother-in-law is a queen of pie generation. She can take any fruit in any stage of ripeness and make a pie. She can whip out a pie crust in seconds flat with a fork. (As an aside, I’ve tried her method and it doesn’t work for me; I just wind up flipping chunks of butter and flour all over myself and the kitchen floor. So I usually use my food processor to make pie crust.) This night, she presented us with a tomato pie. It contained beautiful beefsteak tomatoes from her garden, fresh herbs, and cheese. It tasted like the very essence of summer and I immediately fell in love.

After requesting the recipe, which my mother-in-law graciously gave me, I brought it home and made it immediately. Mine had the right flavor, but it was soggy on the bottom. So I went into tinker mode, because I knew this recipe had good bones and I wanted it to work so badly. I tried to make it with a different crust, but the second pie had the same bottom defect, so I surmised the filling was the problem, not the crust. (My daughter became a vegan shortly after this, so I had to start using a different crust from the original recipe, anyway.)

One of the things I love about tomatoes in season is their juiciness and sweetness. The juiciness, however, was killing my crust. So the question became, “How do I remove some moisture but retain the sweetness of the fruit?”  Seeding the tomatoes helped, but it’s awfully hard to seed a beefsteak tomato. Seeding Roma tomatoes is easier, but I still had a moisture problem. I hit on the idea of roasting the tomatoes before putting them in the pie, which removed about half the moisture and concentrated the flavor. I also layered the pie more like a lasagna, which put a layer of cheese in between each layer of tomato. The end result was a pie with intense tomato and herb flavor, gooey cheesiness, with a lovely dry bottom crust. I was elated!

Since that summer, I’ve made this pie many, many times with all sorts of variations. I have used a nut crust, a whole wheat crust, a standard short crust, and a cheese crust. I also have used store-bought crust. I’ve used all sorts of different mustards. Sometimes I put in a few tablespoons of pesto, either basil, spinach or black olive, in place of the fresh herbs. Occasionally I add thyme and oregano as well, or just a good sprinkle of dried Italian seasoning. I have varied the cheeses and added pepperoni to give it a more pizza flavor. It is a very versatile pie, but you must ALWAYS roast the tomatoes.

A note about store-bought crust: I am all for convenience. I usually keep a package of Oronoque Orchards (made by Mrs. Paul’s) deep dish pie crust in my freezer. However, don’t sacrifice convenience for health. Check the ingredients on the crust label. If it contains lard or partially hydrogenated ANYTHING as the primary fat source (very close to the top of the list of ingredients, probably right after flour), don’t buy it! Give your body every chance at health you can.

Tomato Pie

(serves 6, if you’re lucky)

  • one single crust pie crust, deep dish if you buy it from the supermarket
  • 1 T dijon-style mustard
  • 2 or 3 large beefsteak tomatoes, cut in 1/2″ – 1/3″ slices
  • 2 cups grated cheese, at least half mozzarella, divided (I use Daiya brand shredded vegan cheese if serving my daughter and regular dairy cheese if serving my husband)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided (I use Galaxy brand vegan parmesan for my daughter)
  • 2 T fresh basil, julienned
  • 2T fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  1. If making your own pie crust, place in deep dish or tart pan, prick bottom liberally with a fork and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. If using frozen pie crust, let thaw, prick with a fork, then place in fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  2. While crust is chilling, preheat oven to 400F. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a 13″ x 17″ half sheet pan or two smaller cookie sheets. Spray lightly with Pam.
  3. Place tomato slices close to each other, but not touching, on prepared sheet pan. You should completely fill the sheet pan. Get more tomatoes if you need to. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast for half an hour in preheated oven. The slices should collapse a little but maintain their shape. Remove sheet pan from oven and set aside.
  4. Remove chilled crust from fridge and place on cookie sheet. Put a sheet of foil or parchment paper inside crust, fill with pie weights or dried beans and place in oven. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove foil and beans and bake another 2 minutes. Crust will not be fully cooked. Set aside to cool.
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 350F.
  6. Brush the bottom of the cooled crust with a thin, see-through layer of mustard (I usually squirt mustard in and use my fingers to smear it around).
  7. Using a spatula (I use a small offset spatula) place half the tomatoes, overlapping, on the bottom of the crust. Evenly sprinkle with all the herbs, half the Parmesan, and half the shredded cheese. Layer the remaining tomatoes, Parmesan and shredded cheese in the pie.
  8. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until crust is browned and cheese is melted. Remove from oven, set aside for 5 minutes and serve warm with your favorite salad. (You MUST set it aside for a few minutes. Otherwise you will be biting into molten tomato pie, which will result in that little flappy burn right on the roof of your mouth like the one you get from pizza.)

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Summer bounty: It’s a beautiful thing!


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A final thought: One night last week, Louise snuck out to the fridge in the middle of the night and ate the remaining tomato pie. She left us the following in its stead. Such is the madness that tomato pie inspires in our home…


SOS – the Vegan Version

NOTE: I offer this somewhat sentimental post with thanks to the millions of men and women in the Armed Forces who have given their sweat and blood to protect our country. Thank you.

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from OneMansWonder.com

Not too long ago, my husband and I were talking about a dish that both our fathers used to make: creamed chipped beef on toast, lovingly known in the U.S. military as “Shit on a Shingle”. It’s a very thrifty, humble, yet exceedingly quick dish to prepare, requiring only a few ingredients. It is a balm on those days when old-fashioned comfort food is needed.

In 1910, the Army included creamed chipped beef in its cookbook for the first time. The recipe was simple, using beef stock, evaporated milk, parsley and black pepper, and served over dry toast. The beef was added just before serving to keep the sauce from getting too salty. As World War II approached, the Army changed the recipe, omitting the beef stock and parsley, replacing it with a medium thickness cream sauce. What the early recipe omitted (but what was known by the cooks themselves) was that the dried beef had to be soaked overnight in water, then the water drained off in the morning.

This recipe crept into the Navy recipe books as early as 1932. Below is a page from 1932’s The Cook Book of the United States Navy. As can be seen, dried beef was used at this time, and soaking the meat was now an official step in the recipe.

image of individual page

Somewhere around the time of the Vietnam War, (1944’s Cook Book of the United States Navy still listed dried beef as an ingredient), the U.S. Navy made a switch to minced (ground) beef. They also added tomato sauce and mace or nutmeg. During my research, I was unable to find an online copy of the Navy’s Cook Book from the 1960s, so I can’t confirm this change; it remains a word of mouth alteration. Regardless, the current U.S. Navy cookbook has recipes for creamed chipped beef, creamed ground beef, and creamed ground turkey. The ground meat recipes add onions and worcestershire to the basic recipe, and the tomato sauce is nowhere to be seen. (Note: If you want to see the current recipes that the U.S. armed forces use, go to: http://www.combatindex.com/recipes/recipes_meat.html)

In the 1960s and 1970s, both my father and my husband’s father made this dish for our families. Rick’s dad (who never served in the military, but learned the recipe from his father, a cook in a logging camp) made the Navy version with ground beef and the addition of peas, and my dad made the Army version with chipped beef. It was always served over dry white toast, which always got soggy within minutes (blech). My father served in the Air Force, and, although I cannot find an online Air Force cookbook, I have to believe that the version he remembers is more likely from the Army, as the Air Force was originally the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army, not becoming an independent coequal entity until 1947, and my Dad served in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Fast forward to late Spring 2012. My husband had a craving for SOS, but these days we are eating a healthy diet. He challenged me to make a lower fat, healthier version of SOS. Then he dared me to make it vegan. He wanted it the way his Dad made it – with peas. I was glad to whip something up. Following is vegan SOS. Although it has been veganized, and it is a far cry from the salty, fatty version I grew up with, I believe it will do in a pinch.

Vegan SOS, ready to dish up

Vegan Shit on a Shingle

  • 1/2 roll Gimme Lean ground beef style crumbles
  • 2 T Earth Balance vegan margarine
  • 2 T all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups almond milk, warmed in the microwave or in a small saucepan
  • pinch salt
  • generous black pepper
  • two handfuls frozen baby peas
  • two slices toast, halved diagonally (thick white slices are best. I used rye because it was all I had in the house.)
  1. In a non-stick frying pan, saute Smart Ground in olive oil until crispy on the edges, breaking up the larger lumps as you go. Set aside when done.
  2. In a separate sauce pan, melt Earth Balance over medium-high heat and whisk in flour. Cook, whisking occasionally, until roux is light golden brown, about 3 or 4 minutes. Whisk in the almond milk and salt, and cook until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Add ground black pepper to taste.
  3. Add in the cooked Smart Ground and two handfuls of frozen peas. Turn off the heat, leaving the pan on the burner for a few minutes, letting the residual heat cook the peas.
  4. Place the toast on a plate and ladle on the hot creamy mixture. Serve with hot sauce (my father’s addition).

SOS, served up and ready to go!

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Epic Fail

photo by Stephanie Weaver

One of my favorite dishes EVER is curried roasted cauliflower. I like it with grilled meat, with vegan dinners, or even by itself as a snack right when it comes out of the oven. My daughter LOVES it, as does my husband, who once said the famous words, “I’ll never eat cauliflower!” Now he eats roasted cauliflower and cauliflower soup. If I could only get him to eat beets…

Today I set out to make some masala dal (a soupy Indian dish made from legumes not unlike split peas, spices, chiles and herbs) and roasted cauliflower for dinner. I thought I might also make coconut rice, but the jury was still out.

So, armed with a decent menu and plenty of time, I prepped the dal and got it going in the crockpot. I cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces, tossed them with olive oil, curry powder and a pinch of kosher salt. I put them on a sheet pan sprayed with PAM and put them in a 350 oven to roast. About 15 minutes later, I flipped them so the crispy part of the cauliflower was now up and another part of the florets could get crispy. All was well.

I decided to run downstairs and switch out the laundry. Then I put the clothes away, decided to brush my teeth. Realized I was sleepy and lay down for a nap. Woke up an hour later to an unpleasant aroma.

I jumped out of bed, shouted a four-letter word, to which my daughter replied very concernedly, “What’s WRONG?” I ran down the hall, trailing the word “Cauliflower!” behind me. I turned off the oven, grabbed a kitchen towel and Pulled the smoking tray of charred vegetable matter out. With smoke billowing behind me, I raced to the deck, and dropped the sheet pan on our metal deck table. I could hear the cauliflower popping like corn. I imagined every last little bit of moisture in them had long since been baked out and now little black holes were forming in the interiors of the stalks. Here’s what remained.

Epic fail.

But fortune smiled on me. I went to the grocery store to buy another cauliflower and they were on sale for 99 cents each, so I got two. Now I have a spare in case it happens again.

Wish me luck!

Just for fun, here’s a video that my daughter posted, post burn.

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I should have sent the cauliflower here…

Full of Baloney

Ever have one of those days when you’re daydreaming and say to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be fun if…?” You then concoct some harebrained idea, complete with minute details. Most often these absurd ideas go nowhere. However, once in a while, you actually decide to make them happen. Such was the case with me and my bologna testing.

While eating a Wunderbar bologna sandwich one day, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun if I did a tasting of all the bologna varieties I can buy locally to see which is the best?” I dreamed of putting my beloved Wunderbar alongside Boar’s Head and Oscar Meyer and whatever else I could find. Of course, Wunderbar would come out the winner in a blind taste test of sandwiches on Wonder bread. Obviously, it had to be Wonder bread, because that’s the traditional bread of the 1950s housewife, which was the setting of my daydream.

Bologna is one of those “foods” that I don’t eat often. I don’t think I ever fed it to Louise when she was young, and my husband steers away from it like the plague. (I suspect it holds bad childhood memories for him.) Occasionally, if money is tight, I’ll buy half a pound of $3.99/lb. Wunderbar and have it for lunch for a few days. I’ll only eat it with Hellmann’s mayonnaise, which is probably a holdover from my father’s love of the condiment. Mustard? Never! You make a bologna sandwich with mustard and you can’t taste the bologna (which may be the point). The only other way I’ll eat bologna is rolled up around a pickle as a late night snack. However, that’s only really good if you’ve tied one on and need a salty, fatty snack to prevent a hangover. Not that I ever do that, you understand. But I digress…

Thus armed with misguided inspiration, I set out to find the “best” bologna on the market. Of course, “best” is subjective to one’s taste buds. I was totally biased before I even began, but was determined to keep an open mind. I went to two local grocery stores and got 11 different kinds of the lunch meat. I passed right over the chicken and turkey flavors, opting instead for the meat and beef varieties. I know that bologna contains all the scraps from the butchering process, but somehow eating cow and pig hoof is more palatable than chicken lips and toenails. To me. Remember, this is a subjective thing.

Let me explain what bologna actually is. Dictionary.com defines bologna as “a large seasoned sausage made of finely ground meat, usually beef and pork, that has been cooked and smoked.” That’s the sanitized version. It’s really all the bits of leftover animal, such as offal, trimmings, tail, skin, ligaments, tendons, small bones, and head (including eyes, ears, tongue, etc.), finely ground and mixed with salt, sugar and nitrites (which are known carcinogens) or other preservatives, extra fat and water. This slurry is poured into a casing, traditionally the intestine of an animal. Commercially, however, the casing can be made from paper or plastic. Then the bologna is boiled and/or smoked. Then, to add insult to injury, according to SixWise.com, “In August 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved six viruses as a food additive to be sprayed on cold cuts and packaged deli meats. The viruses are intended to protect against the food-borne-bacteria Listeria monocytogenes that is sometimes found on cold, packaged meat products.” Viruses sprayed on food to keep you from getting sick. Hmm. Makes me wonder…

I can hear you saying, “Why would you CONSIDER eating that?” What can I say – I’m a slave to my tastebuds. The stuff tastes good!

Blocking the reality of bologna out of my mind, I went to my local grocery store and looked at the prepackaged lunch meats. I decided to go with one prepackaged variety, the standard bearer Oscar Mayer, and one prepackaged vegan variety, which most people would say is nothing like bologna (I agree). The rest of my samples would come from the deli counter. I bought 6 thin slices of each kind, which I’m sure drove the slicer guy with the tribal tattooes and ear plugs crazy. However, once I explained that I was writing a blog, he smiled a conspiratorial smile and filled my order without comment. I think he thought my eccentricity was just odd enough to be acceptable.

The varieties I settled on were:

Oscar Mayer Meat and Beef (yes, I know I spelled “Meyer” wrong in the pictures…)

LightLife Vegan


Tobin’s Meat

Boar’s Head Lo-Salt, Beef and Meat

Wunderbar German-style

Olive Loaf

 and Mortadella

Thus armed with well over 1.5 pounds of meat product and faux meat product, I went to buy bread. I couldn’t do the Wonder Bread. No matter how many times I looked at the puffy loaf in the happy packaging, I couldn’t bring myself to double the culinary insult and buy white bread. So I settled on Wonder Light Wheat, which has the traditional puff factor, but also has 2.5 grams of fiber per slice.

Sneaking away to the safety of my own kitchen, far away from the prying eyes of the nutrition police, I sliced 6 slices of bread in half. On each slice, I spread a thin layer of Hellmann’s and topped it with a slice or two of bologna. I cut the half in half and closed it, thus creating a sandwich that looked like a quarter slice of bread. Then I created a spreadsheet to record my observations, got a glass of water to wash away each sample (thus preserving the scientific integrity of the study) and sat down to taste.

Ready to test

Oscar Mayer bologna is the standard bearer for processed meat products. The company has been around since 1883, when the Mayer Brothers Oscar and Gottfried started it in a Chicago suburb. The two flavors I tested were meat and beef.

The meat bologna tasted like … well… bologna. It is what I expected it to be. A springy, reddish slice of something. It doesn’t really have a meat flavor; it’s more like a vaguely animal-based-salty-fatty-goodness flavor. You can taste that there’s meat in there, but it, along with SPAM, defines the whole concept of mystery meat.

The Oscar Mayer beef bologna was truly disturbing. It had the same salt and fat punch of its meat brother, but it was spongy and had a liver flavor. (I think I know which one gets the offal.) To make it an even more disconcerting experience, this bologna was lighter in color, which begs the question: How did they DO that?

LightLife’s bologna-style lunch “meat”, marketed under the Smart Deli brand is odd at best. It is reddish-brown (the darkest of the varieties I tested), and has a spongy, bologna-like texture. However, it tastes nothing like bologna. It tastes nothing like anything I’ve ever tasted. It tastes fake. It has an artificial smokiness to it that is disturbing. This product is good for vegans who miss eating meat. It has the right chew factor. Just don’t expect it to taste anything like real bologna, because this is a classic case of a marketing faux pas. (I shouldn’t be surprised at that, because the parent company of LightLife is ConAgra, known for Frankenfood and dishonest practices.)

Lebanon Bologna is called bologna, and is the only bologna that adheres to the dictionary definition of the word. Finely ground meat with visible chunks of fat that has been smoked. Yes! You can actually SEE what this product is made from. It is named after Lebanon, PA (where they lower a 150-lb. stick of the stuff on New Year’s Eve), and has its origin in the Pennsylvania Dutch community. Their efforts to recreate the smoked sausages of Eastern Europe resulted in a tangy, smoky, dry product that is more like mild salami than bologna. I LOVED this bologna. The only brand of this I could find was Boar’s Head. I’d love to try a regional version.

The Boar’s Head brand sells itself as offering “superior quality delicatessen meats”. The company got its start in Brooklyn, NY in 1905. Frank Brunckhorst wasn’t happy with the hams that he could buy so he started a factory with 3 employees. Since the Upton Sinclair book “The Jungle” came out the same year, I have no doubt that this company was started because of the disgusting conditions in other factories. No wonder Brunckhorst was dissatisfied! After 107 years, Boar’s Head products are the most expensive on the market, but not really the best. All 3 varieties I tasted had the same pleasant chewy texture. They also had the same saltiness, with no discernible difference in taste between meat and beef versions. The lo-salt version had NO flavor, which is interesting. It was just there in my sandwich, begging for something to make it interesting. I refused to help it and moved on.

Finally I arrived at Wunderbar German bologna. Ah, my favorite. Imagine my surprise when I took a bite and realized it tastes like all the others I had tried, only a tad sweeter. Upon further research, I discovered that it contains twice the sugar of all the other bolognas! Bummer. My dream of having the ultimate bologna was shattered.

Then came olive loaf. What is olive loaf? Bologna studded with green olives in rectangular, not circular shape. It has a cousin, P&P loaf (which stands for Pickles and Pimientos). Both are in the margins of the bologna field, and are great if one is looking for something different yet familiar. The one I tasted had a chewy texture, not unlike the Boar’s Head varieties, and a salty olive punch. This product actually tastes like something! WOOHOO!

I saved the original for last. Mortadella is THE king of bologna, having been invented in Bologna, Italy by the ancient Romans. It was called farcimen mirtatum, or myrtle sausage, because it was flavored with myrtle berries. Mortadella Bologna has a Protected Geographical Status under EU law, in place to protect regional food integrity. It can contain pistachios, peppers, pounded garlic, olives or peppercorns, and is popular all over the world. The brand I bought was Carando, made in the USA. It had large chunks of fat and was studded with pistachios. It was salty and delicious and I liked it better than any of the others I tried.

The end result

My conclusion is that all bologna is basically the same. There are slight variations in texture, saltiness and sweetness. I liked the chewier versions better, and those with more salt were the best. The worst I tried was the Oscar Mayer beef bologna, due to its spongy, liver qualities (I kept thinking about bovine spongiform encephalopathy while I ate it), and the best I tried were the mortadella studded with pistachios and the Lebanon bologna. The olive loaf came in a close second. However, most bologna isn’t worth the fat, calories and sodium. It’s a boring food product. Have a piece of chocolate cake instead.

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Recipes? Well… sort of

My husband is a painter. He can work on a painting for years, revisiting it every so often to try to figure out what needs changing or what can be improved upon. His art is a little wacky, a little unsettling, somewhat graphic and very, very hard to pigeonhole. It’s an intuitive thing – he just “knows” when a painting is finished and he just “knows” when a combination of colors, figures and shapes comes together. It’s not something that can really be taught.

It’s the same with cooking. Cooking is intuitive to me. The look, smell, texture, and taste are the factors that determine if a dish is “done” or not. It’s sort of like creating art in that way.

Frequently, my status on Facebook is about some meal I’m making. Invariably, someone will pop on and ask for the recipe. While I would love to share the actual food with people, sharing a recipe is hard for me, because, more often than not, there isn’t one! I’m sure I’m a constant source of frustration to my friends, so I thought I would try to share the process of making a recipe, in this case an eclectic mixture of burritos and enchiladas.

Whenever I cook, I am cooking for the people in my home. I always try to use healthy ingredients, whole grains, lots of fresh veggies, products with low saturated fat, etc. I try to make meals sturdy enough for my carnivore husband, yet completely animal product free for my vegan daughter. This way, I know for sure that my family is getting good nutrition and eating something satisfying. However, I also work on a very tight budget and tight time schedule, so I do use some store-bought products in almost every dish I make. I’d love to make my own tortillas and corn my own beef, but those are luxuries of time that I don’t have right now.

Vegan Enchiritos (yes, I made that up)

Look in your fridge and find vegetables. All kinds of veggies. Zucchini, carrots, onions, bell peppers, chiles, potatoes and whatever else you have lying around. Leftover peas and corn? Sure! Leftover broccoli from the chinese food place? Sure, rinse the sauce off it and use it. (side note: don’t keep onions and potatoes in the fridge – they go bad faster.)

Peel, seed, and dice all your veggies into 1/4″-1/2″ dice. Keep them in separate piles. Saute your hard veggies (carrots, potatoes, celery, etc.) in a little olive oil until they are beginning to soften. Add the softer veggies like onions, zucchini and peppers. Add minced chipotles in adobo if you have them around, making sure to use some of the adobo liquid. Saute until everything is cooked to your liking, seasoning well with salt, pepper, cumin, Mexican oregano and cayenne. I usually add as much spice as will fit on my finger without falling off – about 1/2 tsp. to start. Then I adjust to taste. Don’t be shy with salt – it brings out the flavors of everything else.

Drain and rinse a 15-oz. can of beans. In this case, I used black beans because I had them. Throw in baby spinach leaves or chopped fresh cilantro or parsley at the end so the flavor stays fresh. Use your imagination! You should wind up with about 6-8 cups of vegetable mix. Taste it. If you think it would be improved by adding dried fruit or some other sauteed veggie, add them. Add more spice if it needs it. Then taste again. This is your only chance to make the filling taste good. If there’s a lot of liquid in the bowl, drain it out and reserve it to mix with the enchilada sauce – it’s pure flavor!

Prep your pan. Spray a large rectangular baking dish with Pam and put a layer of enchilada sauce in the bottom. I used Old El Paso this time, with a HUGE squirt of Sriracha, which is a Thai hot sauce. I added more spice, because I cannot stand wimpy enchilada sauce. Taste it to make sure you like it.

Take your first large tortilla (10″-12″) and flop it down on a flat surface. Top with a generous 3/4 cup of filling, and liberally sprinkle with cheese.

My favorite vegan cheese is Daiya, which is made from tapioca starch. Tapioca comes from cassava, which is a tuber grown in warm climes. Great stuff.

Fold both sides of the tortilla in to the center, and fold the bottom away from you.

Carefully roll the tortilla away from you, folding in the sides if they try to escape and squeezing the filling in toward the center. You should end up with the seam of the tortilla on the bottom, and a neat looking burrito. If some filling escapes, no sweat. Put it back in the bowl and reuse it. If your burrito is silly looking, either re-roll it or cover it with more cheese so nobody will notice. I found that microwaving each tortilla for 15 seconds softened them and made them easier to roll.

Neatly place burritos side by side in your prepped pan. I got 7 in mine. Of course, there were only 6 tortillas in the bag, so I had to trot out a round lavash bread and use that so the pan was filled. If that happens to you, no sweat. Go with it.

Generously pour the remaining enchilada/Sriracha sauce over the top of the burritos. This adds the enchilada component, and this is the point at which the burritos become enchiritos.

Top with a very healthy layer of shredded cheese. I used two varieties of Daiya, mixed together.

Spray a piece of aluminum foil with Pam and cover pan (sprayed side down). Bake at 350F for about an hour. The enchiritos should be bubbly and the cheese should be completely melted. I usually test the temperature near the middle of the pan and am satisfied if it is 160F or higher. Hot enough to eat.

Carefully remove enchiritos from the pan with an offset spatula. If you don’t have one of those, try using two forks, one on each end. Serve with a side vegetable or refried beans or a cool, crunchy salad. These usually taste better the next day, so be sure to bring them to work for lunch!

There is no magic about cooking. It, like painting, is an art. Baking is a science and needs real recipes, but cooking is part inspiration, part knowing the ingredients and how they react to heat, and part mad scientist. In a word, it’s play. So get out there, buy some interesting ingredients and play with them. See what you come up with! And always remember to taste, taste, taste!

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