Tuesday, November 3, 2009


This is a slow-to-make but very convenient food; my family loves it.

Biscuit dough - maybe go a bit easy on the leavening
Instant mashed potato flakes
Canned veggies

Optional: onion flakes or powder; garlic powder; season salt; boullion/broth (the salt and boullion are either/or); coriander, cumin, pepper.

Roll the biscuit dough fairly thin (about 1/4 inch, or 2/3 cm, however you're counting). You are, of course, welcome to boil and mash your own potatoes, chop and parboil the veggies fresh - but I feel this recipe takes enough work as it is. I do rinse the canned veg several times; sometimes I add broth, but usually just water, to the potato flakes, then stir in the veggies, trying not to mash them. Cut out circles of dough, 4-5 inches (about 10 cm) across. Put 1-2 T filling (really- it doesn't seem like enough, but it is) in the middle, pinch the edges together, and bake. (A small pastry press is great here, but not essential.) Brushing the inside edge with water helps them stick closed; brushing the tops with oil helps them brown. I find that 350 F seems to work well; check on them at around 20 minutes, and decide how much browner you want them. They can take a while - it doesn't seem to entirely depend on the oven. Great for sack lunches- if you do the size I've suggested, they can make an entire meal in themselves.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My favorite vegan waffles

For those who wonder: we are not vegan. Not even vegetarian. But with milk and egg allergies in the family, anything without meat should probably be vegan - even with notable exceptions like the tira-not-quite-so, posted previously. But that's a once-or-twice a year food, and these are more like weekly, so it makes a big difference to have an allergy-free version on this one.

(Measurements are all approximate)
2 1/2 c rolled oats, quick or standard
3 c white flour
1 T baking powder
1 heaping teaspoon sugar
1/2 T vinegar
1 scant quarter cup of oil (I like olive)

Mix-ins: canned fruit; nuts/seeds; spices

The sugar, vinegar, and oil are all to improve flavor/ texture. A teaspoon of salt is also helpful that way, but I never add it. I've left out the other three- even at the same time - and the food still works. And sometimes I'll substitute half a cup of the white flour with Semolina (also known as Germaid or Farina); sometimes I'll substitute even more for whole wheat flour or whatever else I have on hand that's nutritious. Needless to say, if you can find rolled six- or nine- grain cereal, you can substitute as much as you want for the oats. Unfortunately, amaranth, quinoa, millet, and cracked cereals all come out too crunchy. I'm fairly sure that if I were to start it all soaking the night before I could get them to work, but waffles/pancakes generally a spur-of-the-moment decision, so there you are. Leftover potato flakes, mashed potatoes, wheat germ, and so forth are also good additions, but they're not regulars for us, so I'll let you figure that out for yourself.

Mix all the above ingredients, whatever you're using, together. Should be somewhat crumbly. Nuts and seeds (sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, cashews, flaxseed) can go in now or after the water, depending on when you remember them. Somehow they're just hard to mix along with the fruit.

Put in any fruit you want to use: a large can of pineapple tidbits is our favorite, though canned blueberries work well, too. With the blueberries, you can save the juice and make syrup out of it by adding sugar and boiling until translucent. With pineapple, I just pour the juice in, too - and I always leave out the vinegar if I'm using pineapple. Canned peaches are a bit sticky, leaving unhappy burnt bits, so I save those for topping. Canned pumpkin seems to work well.

Now, add water. I usually just stick it under the faucet and cover the surface, stir it in, and repeat until I have a slightly thin batter. As I'm heating the skillet, making syrup, etc, this will thicken. In fact, this batter thickens more the longer you let it sit- I often add water two or three times through the course of cooking a batch.

Now, nuts and seeds, and spices. With pumpkin (or without fruit) I especially like cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and maybe some fenugreek. I like Pineapple plain or maybe with cardamom; and I like blueberries by themselves. I think flaxseed seems to go well with almost anything in this.

Further note: use the batter while it's thinner for pancakes, and when it thickens up for waffles. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tira-not-quite-so; variations on a theme or, Attempting to improve greatness (from a certain point of view)

As a fairly orthodox (heterodox?) individual, it will be fairly clear why knowledge of the usual ingredients in the popular Italian dessert known as Tiramisu keeps me from enjoying this particular delicacy; so I've tried to create a variation using my own rules about what is halal and what is not: the first is based on fairly straightforward substitution; with the second I've begun to add some more variation. Eventually, I suppose, this may evolve into an entirely new dessert altogether; for now though, this is what I've done. Amounts are approximate, because that's how I cook. For standard Tiramisu recipes, I simply used Google - some called for decaf coffee, some didn't call for the alcohol, many left out the heavy whipping cream - but that's all irrelevant; I picked what I thought would be good and went with it. (When you're adapting a recipe, I've found it's best to go with the lovliest, most decadent recipe you can to start with.)

First Variation
Ingredients (in no useful order):
Heavy whipping cream
Sparkling grape juice - I used Meier's [fake] Spumante. It's a bit tart, which is definitely good- the point of this is not to add more sugar.
Sugar- not much
Neufchatel cheese

First, I boiled water and made up the Pero, to about triple strength. My reasoning? Tiramisu - the best tiramisu - is made with espresso. More thoughts on this under future variations, below. Note: it is tempting, for the sake of expediency, to simply dump the pero into the pot with the boiling water. Do not do this. Just as with herbal tea, some flavor will be lost through overboiling. Put the water into a shallow pan, add the powder, and do any needed mixing there. You'll want this to cool a bit, so set it aside. Oh, splash in some fruit du vin, here. (That, for the less french-inclined, is a joke: fruit du vin means fruit of the vine, but the word for vine and the word for wine are the same....)
Ok, now the tricky parts. Separate the eggs. I used six, but then, I had a huge, monster packet (over a pound) of ladyfingers to use up. I take out any blood spots, as I find these unattractive; but be sure and resist the temptation to do this before the yolk and the white are separated. Important: in most recipes where you separate eggs, you can throw any mistakes in with the yolks and be fine. Not so with this. First, take the yolks and beat them - with a fork, probably - until they turn from a bright, lovely orangy-yellow to a soft, golden, creamy yellow. This takes a few minutes, but is so worth doing. If you have left too much white in with the yolks, this will be difficult-to-impossible to achieve. (Come to think of it, the application of an electric mixer might solve it; more on this, probably, later - as in another posting.) Once the yolks are entirely the right color-lighter and creamier - pour them into a mixing bowl with a small splash of grape juice (did I mention this should not be red or purple or anything other than white grape juice?) and about two packets of neufchatel cheese. I chose neufchatel not for its supposed health value over traditional cream cheese (if you want healthy, you should not be making tiramisu) - but because it is a bit closer in consistency to the traditional mascarpone, which is what is normally used for this dish, but is a little harder to find here. A small glug of sugar (think two to four tablespoons -and this is totally a case where less is more) and mix away. Use a folding attachment if you have one (on my handmixer, these look like beaters with only one cross bar, instead of two - two dimensional, as it were; think regular instead of phillip's head) otherwise you might be better off to hand mix, though if you do that you might want to beat the neufchatel cheese separately with a handmixer for a bit first, then put in the egg stuff, so that it's a little easier when it comes to folding by hand. Anyway, however you do it, get this stuff mixed together. Smooth. It really does need to be smooth.
Now, take the whites - no yolk in these, and, after some quick work with a metal spoon, no blood spots, either. Whip them up, just like you were making meringue. In fact, I love to do the meringue test - when you can turn the bowl upside down without anything sliding out, it's ready. One small spoonful of sugar might not go amiss here, if you must - I didn't, and I don't recommend it. A pinch of salt, on the other hand, is definitely a helpful item; it will make the whipping go faster and fluffier. Don't overdo it, though.
Ok, so fold the whites into the yolk mixture. Definitely do this by hand; a rubber or a wooden spatula will work for this. The idea is to mix well without substantially decreasing fluffiness; this is a really good trick once you get the hang of it, useful for all kinds of cullinary shenanigans - again, there will possibly be more on this somewhat later.
So, you can use the (metal or glass, not plastic) bowl that you mixed the egg whites in for mixing up the whipping cream. Throw in a good-sized splash of your jus des grapes (more french, meaning "juice from grapes" - see, don't it feel like gourmet cooking already!) and some more -not too much- sugar.
Layering: Get a metal spatula ready. Open the packet(s) of ladyfingers - you want to be ready to move. You don't have to be lightning fast, as this isn't, for example, phillo dough -but if you get called away for a phone call or your one of your children starts pulling down the bookshelf, you will want to move very fast when you return. Set your pans up in this order: Ladyfingers, Pero, egg mixture, then whipping cream. Put the (rectangular) dish in front of this row, so you can move it along quite easily. Put serving/spreading utensils in with each item. You can, if you want to, measure about how many lady fingers fit in your serving pan; there is very little use, though, as they change size and - to a degree - shape, once you've soaked them, anyway.
Here goes: Drop (gently, to avoid breaking) ladyfingers into the pero, scooping them out with the metal spatula (or a pie slicer could work nicely) and arranging them attractively in the bottom of your serving pan, once they have soaked up just enough of the liquid to be tasty and not so much as to completely disintigrate. Hopefully you will have enough for two (three would be too much to hope for) layers - it goes without needing to be said, nevertheless I am saying it: don't soak the next layer until you have completely assembled the first one. Arrange prettily-this doesn't affect the flavor, but it's just fun. Spread the egg mixture over this, and then, somewhat thinly, the whipping cream. Repeat. The last layer of whipping cream should be a bit thicker.
Now get some (unsweetened, and un-dutched if you have it-I didn't, but it generally tastes nicer) cocoa powder, put it in a seive - not a colander, which is used for draining spaghetti, but a seive, which has a fairly fine wire mesh. Shake it over the top. (If this is for someone who cannot handle chocolate, use more pero powder for this step.)
Chill. I mean the dessert - the longer you can hold off, the better it tastes; an hour is the minimum the recipes I looked at recommended. Enjoy.

Second Variation
Melt one packet of semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler. Add some cocoa powder - so we're looking at kind of demi-sweet rather than semi-sweet. Pour it into the bottom of your serving dish. Assemble the other ingredients as described above, on top of it. Dunk the bottom of the pan in hot water for a bit before serving.

Third Variation
Freeze the whole thing. Then eat.

Future Innovations
Pear juice. Chocolate drizzled on top. Less whipping cream. More on this, probably, later.

More (this is later) future innovations
Instead of Pero, getting organic Cocoa beans and roasting them in my own oven, then running them through my soy-milk machine (would this boil them too long? I think it's mostly a steaming process, which is what I'm looking for... Still thinking about this one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Modular pedal-powered vehicle

Most who have known me for any length of time are aware of this idea: a pedal-powered, solar-boosted, regenerative-braking, lightweight-but-sturdy safe vehicle that you can buy a piece at a time. Young married couple? Just buy the driver-one passengar module. Want to
store stuff, maybe have a basket you can pull off to take through the store? Get the "back boot" or "trunk" - just snaps on. Have a baby, now? Add a rear-seat section. Family of seventeen? Add several rear-seat sections. Any passengers can help pedal; there's another solar panel on each roof, and attaching or detaching sections should be no more difficult or complicated than changing out the seats in a family van. Done properly, these should be much cheaper than conventional cars, and just as safe- given the space-age materials we have now, one should be able to create all the comforts currently available in a luxury car - much more so than previous generations of energy-efficient vehicles.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Energy from children

With all the hubub about the power-generating playground equipment from BYU's engineering department, lately, I have a few ideas to add to the clamour (rough sketches coming soon)- if somebody else decides to pick these up and build them, I only ask that they use it for benefiting those who most need it, rather than lining their own pocketbooks. And so:
- A "water wheel" - something like a cross between a ferris wheel and a slide. (This will probably make more sense when I've learned to upload drawings).
-Put a ratcheting joint in the top of a swing set - so every back-and-forth moves it along a little further
-Capturing the friction energy as children slide down a slide
-A trampoline-like cushion-like toy that has air underneath (many baby toys are built on this principle); whenever you jump down, this could force a piston along a chamber; made of sufficiently springy material it would bounce back on its own
-A dumbwaiter-type device, perhaps two buckets - a child goes down, the other side comes up; the damping device at the top also serves to collect the energy released each time

More, possibly, to come.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An invention idea

Suppose you had a washing machine that attached to - or part of it was - a clothes line. Clothes would go in one at a time, on pegs; this very small machine would wash them in a very small and efficient way, then send them out to dry in the sunshine. One would want a way to use it by itself (without the line) during the winter, or rainstorms, or whatever; but maybe they could be made small enough and cheap enough (not at first, I'm sure, but eventually) that it would be affordable to have a conventional washing-machine as well. Or maybe the laundry line could be inside during those times, as I saw in Europe... NW