Vegetarian Biscuits and Gravy

Do you want to read a long, drawn-out blog post intro to this recipe before I actually get down to the details? Of course you do!

But I don’t really care to write it. Suffice to say, the first time I ever had biscuits and gravy was at a restaurant somewhere on vacation with my parents when I was about 11 or 12. I loved biscuits and I loved gravy, so I assumed it would be awesome. But I’d never had (or even imagined the existence of) sausage gravy, and since I was at the age where — with food at least — surprise equals disgust, I hated it.

Over time I learned to like biscuits and gravy. But over time I also became a vegetarian. What to do? How about make my own vegetarian version? Of course!

The first thing you need to know is that I am not much of a baker, and my biscuit recipe is almost exactly the biscuit recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, so I suggest before you do anything else, you head over to your favorite bookseller and buy it.

The next thing you need to know is that I am all about making sauces, gravies, béchamels, what-have-you. I have always found that recipes gloss over the trick of it, which is really not hard at all, but if you don’t know it, they turn into a lumpy disaster. So I’ll get to that in time.

First let’s make some biscuits.

Not Exactly Mark Bittman’s Buttermilk Biscuits

This makes somewhere between 10 and 15 biscuits, depending on how thin you roll it out and how careful you are about not wasting any dough.

Ingredients

2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder*
1 tsp baking soda
5 tbsp butter
1 c buttermilk

* Mark Bittman says 3 tsp, but since 3 tsp equals 1 tbsp, I don’t know why he does that, other than that baking is a science and maybe saying 3 tsp instead of 1 tbsp will make you be more precise in your measurements. Also make sure you pay attention to the difference between baking powder (which contains baking soda) and baking soda (which does not contain baking powder).

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 450ºF.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the first 4 ingredients and stir together well.
  3. Cut the butter into small pieces — I actually hack away at it with kitchen scissors; you could also grate it with a box grater if it’s cold enough.
  4. Add the butter pieces into the dry ingredients, and then using your fingers, smoosh the butter together with the flour until there aren’t any big chunks of butter left. (Make the recipe a few times and you’ll probably figure out your own preferred way to do this.)
  5. Stir the buttermilk into the bowl 1/4 cup at a time, and continue stirring until the dough starts to come together. If your experience is like mine, it never totally does. Just avoid working it too much.
  6. Scoop the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times, just until it comes together. Again, don’t overwork it.
  7. Dust a rolling pin with flour, and roll the dough out to about 1/2 inch thick.
  8. If you have a biscuit cutter or a circular cookie cutter, awesome. Otherwise, an overturned juice glass supposedly works. You might want to rub some flour around the inside lip of the glass to keep the dough from sticking. Press the cutter/glass down straight through the dough quickly to make circles. Don’t twist.
  9. Hopefully your dough is dry enough not to stick to the cutter/glass and even more importantly to the counter. Assuming that’s the case, you can transfer the circles of dough to a nonstick baking sheet. Give about an inch between biscuits. They do expand while baking, but not a huge amount.
  10. If you have leftover dough, smoosh it back together, roll it out again, and cut out a few more biscuits! Then be sure to take the remaining scraps this time, mash them into a grotesque monster biscuit, and put that on the tray too!
  11. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes. (My oven takes 9.) Just look for the kind of golden brown color on top that you like to see.
  12. Remove the biscuits from the oven and cool slightly on a cooling rack before serving.

Here are the biscuits I made this morning (minus a couple Sara snagged before I could take a picture). Can you tell which ones I cut out first?

While the biscuits are in the oven, you can get started on the gravy.

Scott’s Vegetarian Sausage Gravy

Ingredients

3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1/4 c buttermilk
3/4 c vegetable broth
1 c milk
2 vegetarian breakfast sausage patties (e.g. Morningstar Farms)
fresh ground black pepper
salt to taste

Preparation

  1. Combine the liquid ingredients in a 2-cup measuring cup. (Should be 2 cups total.)
  2. Place butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. While butter is melting, microwave the sausage patties 20-25 seconds, flip, then 20-25 seconds more.
  4. Add the sausage patties to the saucepan and break into small pieces with a wooden spoon.
  5. Add the flour and stir well for about 1 minute.
  6. Here’s the secret to good, smooth gravy/sauce/bechamel: Add the liquid a small amount at a time. By “small amount” I mean about 1/4 cup. Stir until all of the liquid is absorbed and the mixture is a consistent texture, then continue adding liquid 1/4 cup at a time until the overall mixture is more “liquid” than “paste,” then pour in all of the rest of the liquid and stir well.
  7. Turn the heat up to high and stir constantly until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium.
  8. Continue stirring constantly, making sure to loosen up anything that’s starting to stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
  9. Stir in a generous amount of black pepper (fresh ground if you have it). Good sausage gravy has a lot of black pepper in it. I generally use at least 1/2 tbsp to 1 tbsp.
  10. Continue stirring and simmering until the gravy reaches your desired thickness. Taste and season with salt as needed.

That’s it! Put 2-3 biscuits in a bowl or on a plate, ladle the gravy over and enjoy!

Scott’s Vegetable Fried Rice

Even before COVID-19 hit, back when we were getting takeout at least once or twice a week, this was a staple meal I’d cook… uh… almost as often as we were getting takeout. Now I make it two or three times a week, because it’s reliable, satisfying, and I have it down cold.

Any time I realize I have a recipe down cold, and that my own technique for it has probably deviated somewhat from whatever recipe I originally followed when I needed to follow a recipe, it feels like I should write down my own recipe. For posterity, or whatever. Anyway, here it is!

I’ve adapted this recipe slightly for the time we’re living in. Normally we always buy fresh produce, but as stay-at-home orders set in, and I wasn’t sure what the future held, grocery-shopping-wise, I bought some bags of frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables don’t take as long to cook as fresh, so that affects the timing and sequence of adding vegetables to the stir fry.

Scott’s Vegetable Fried Rice

Makes… a lot. But you’ll eat a lot of it, so it’s pointless to try to say how many servings it is!

Ingredients

All quantities are approximate. Use as much or as little as you want, and feel free to omit or substitute vegetables.

4 c or more cooked jasmine rice
1 package extra firm tofu
1 medium onion, rough chopped
1 c chopped or sliced carrots
1 c cauliflower florets, fresh or frozen
1 c broccoli florets, fresh or frozen
1 c chopped Chinese, Savoy or green cabbage
1 c sliced button mushrooms
1 can baby corn, drained and rinsed (optional)
1 c fresh pea pods or frozen peas
1-2 cloves minced garlic
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 diced scallions
peanut oil
sesame oil
soy sauce or soy paste
rice wine vinegar
Sriracha sauce (optional)

Preparation

  1. Cook the rice in a rice cooker or otherwise according to package instructions. (Any kind of long-grain white or brown rice will work in this, but we prefer the taste and texture of white jasmine rice.) You can also use leftover rice! Note this is 4 cups cooked. It only takes about 2 cups of dry rice to make 4 cups cooked.

  2. Drain the tofu and press it to remove excess moisture. (We wrap ours in a kitchen towel, between two plates, with a heavy can placed on top, for about 10-15 minutes.) Cut the tofu into 48 cubes. (That’s 2 x 4 x 6.)

  3. In a large bowl, mix about 2 tbsp each of the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and Sriracha until well blended. Add in the tofu cubes and toss very gently (they’ll break apart otherwise), until thoroughly coated. You can do this up to a few hours in advance so they’ll marinate, but I never plan ahead enough. Not a vegetarian or just hate tofu? Skip it! Or, chicken or shrimp will also work very well in this recipe. (Marinate the meat in the same mixture and stir fry it separately before the vegetables, then set aside until the end.)

  4. Spread the marinated tofu cubes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake at 400ºF for about 10-15 minutes. The timing isn’t super-critical; you just want them to get a bit crusty on the outside. You can also deep-fry them but I prefer baking.

  5. While the tofu is in the oven you can do the rest of these steps. We’ll start with a typical stir-fry of the vegetables. This means adding in each type of vegetable every couple of minutes, so you need to approach them in order of how long they take to cook. In a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat, add 2-3 tbsp of peanut oil and a generous splash of sesame oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and carrots. If you’re using fresh cauliflower, add it now as well. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, until the vegetables start to soften and change color. If the onion starts to turn brown, turn the heat down a bit or add a splash of water.

  6. Add the broccoli, if it’s fresh, and stir fry for a couple of minutes, again until it starts to soften and change color. If your broccoli is frozen, go right to the next step. If you’re using fresh pea pods, add them now as well.

  7. Add the cabbage and any frozen vegetables except peas. You know the drill… a couple of minutes, etc.

  8. Add the mushrooms and baby corn, if using. Stir fry until the mushrooms have released their moisture and are starting to darken.

  9. Add the frozen peas and the minced garlic, and stir fry for no more than 2 minutes. Add a splash of rice wine vinegar and stir well, then add about 2 tbsp of soy sauce or paste, and Sriracha to taste. Stir well and then remove all contents of the skillet to a large bowl. (I use the same bowl I tossed the tofu in, so the vegetables absorb whatever is left of the marinade.)

  10. Wipe the skillet with a paper towel if there’s a lot of residue, or just leave it as-is. Return to the heat and pour in about 4 tbsp of peanut oil and another splash of sesame oil. This should heat up very quickly.

  11. Add your rice to the skillet, breaking up any chunks, and spread it around in an even layer. Cook for a few minutes, turning occasionally, so that some grains get a bit crisp and brown, but not burnt.

  12. Push the rice to the sides of the skillet in a ring, so there’s a large opening in the center. Add a touch more peanut oil, then pour in the beaten eggs. Let sit for a few seconds and then stir and break up as the eggs cook. (Pretend you’re making scrambled eggs for breakfast.) Cook the eggs until they’re no longer runny, but don’t overcook — we’re not done yet, and they will cook more.

  13. Stir the cooked eggs and rice together until the egg is thoroughly mixed through. Reduce the heat to low. Add a generous amount of soy sauce or paste — at least 2-3 tbsp, and stir until well blended.

  14. Add your vegetables to the skillet with the rice and egg and stir to blend together.

  15. Take the tofu out of the oven if you haven’t already, and add it to the skillet. Stir again to blend.

  16. Remove the skillet from the heat, and stir in the diced scallions.

Optional “Dipping” Sauce

We always make this fried rice with frozen vegetable potstickers. I make a sauce for dipping the potstickers using equal parts soy sauce, soy paste, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and Sriracha. It’s good to make a bunch of this, because it is also great drizzled over the fried rice in your bowl!

Wait… Soy Paste?

I had never heard of soy paste before, but I got turned on to it a few years ago. It’s brewed in a similar way to the soy sauce we know well in America, but it’s thicker — almost the consistency of Hershey’s chocolate syrup — and it has a deeper and less salty flavor. You can pretty much use it interchangeably with soy sauce, but bear in mind that because it’s thicker, you might need to add a little bit of water to your skillet with it so it doesn’t just burn to the bottom. When you’re pouring it on top while serving though, keep it thick!

My favorite kind is Kimlan, which I pick up at United Noodles.

Vegetarian Swedish “Meatballs”

(Another day, another blog post with a vegetarian recipe! Again, I’m not turning this into a food blog, but this is just something I’ve been meaning to write up for a while, and I made it last night so the timing is right.)

I was going to just put “meat” in quotes in the title, but (a) I was thinking about SEO (yes, I’ve become that person) and (b) I realized that, for this recipe, “balls” really needs to be in quotes just as much as “meat”. You’ll see why when you cook them. Let’s just say neither “meatmuffins” nor “meatpucks” really works, for obvious reasons. I seem to keep mistyping the word as “metaballs” which I actually think is quite appropriate. But, you know… SEO.

Also just a word of caution… this is definitely not vegan, and it’s not particularly “healthy”. But it’s a bit of that “hygge” everyone’s after these days (even though that’s Danish).

I’ve been eating vegetarian/pescatarian for the last 5 1/2 years, but I’ve been a Minnesotan of mixed Scandinavian descent my entire life. So, yes… I’ve been quite familiar with Swedish meatballs for a long time. Well before Minnesota finally got an IKEA store in the mid-2000s.

In fact, I’ve made the meat variety of Swedish meatballs so many times that I still have the recipe memorized, even though I haven’t tasted them since 2013. Granted, my kids are not vegetarians, so I still have to occasionally make the traditional version for them. But last year I finally cracked the code on a vegetarian version. For a while I’d just use general-purpose frozen vegetarian “meatballs” and cook them in a vaguely Swedish cream sauce. I even used “GRÖNSAKSBULLAR” from IKEA. (Why does IKEA do everything in all-caps? It’s awfully shouty for mild-mannered Swedes.) They’re not bad… but they’re not right for this dish, either.

There’s a certain chunky texture that proper Swedish meatballs need, and the processed smoothness of frozen “meatballs” — plus the lack of the correct spices — just won’t cut it. So I turned to another processed frozen meat substitute… “crumbles”.

Yes, the secret to my vegetarian Swedish “meatballs”, if I’m being precise about it, is MorningStar Farms® Grillers® Crumbles™. (I copy-pasted that from their website to make sure I got all of the trademarks right.)

That, and a muffin tin.

This mixture isn’t as firm as one with ground beef, so you can’t shape balls by hand. That’s where the muffin tin comes in, as well as the slightly odd shape of the final product. We’ll be baking these instead of browning them in a skillet as with traditional Swedish meatballs.

This recipe also involves one of my favorite skills I have acquired as a cook: making a good sauce. Whether it’s gravy, béchamel, or whatever you want to call it, the principle is the same: 4 tbsp fat, 4 tbsp flour, 4 c flavorful liquid. Cook the fat and flour together for a minute, then gradually add the liquid, stirring constantly to absorb completely and keep the consistency smooth. Once you “get it”, it’s simple and awesome. But I rarely see it described correctly.

OK, enough Minnesota small talk. Let’s get cooking!

Vegetarian Swedish “Meatballs”

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

For “Meatballs” (a.k.a. Metaballs)

1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small(-ish) onion, very finely chopped; reserve 1-2 tbsp for cream sauce
1 12-oz pkg MorningStar Farms® Grillers® Crumbles™ or similar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 slices stale(-ish) bread, processed to fine crumbs
1 tsp (or so) freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For Cream Sauce:

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp flour
3 c vegetable broth
1/2 c milk and 1/2 c cream
(or just 1 c milk if you’re pretending this is healthy)
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of allspice
2 tbsp ketchup
(or 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce if ketchup sounds too weird to you)
salt and pepper to taste
minced fresh dill or dried dill weed for garnish

Preparation

Stuff you’ll need to have ready before you start:

  • a large (12-inch), high sided skillet
  • a 12-cup muffin tin, greased and floured
  • a large mixing bowl
  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
  2. In large skillet, melt 1/2 tbsp butter with 1/2 tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the onions (except reserve), and cook about 3 minutes until softened. Stir in entire package of crumbles, cover and set to medium-low for 3-5 minutes. You’re just trying to thaw the crumbles, not cook them! Check periodically and break up big pieces as they thaw. Remove from heat as soon as crumbles are soft.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, stir breadcrumbs into beaten eggs with nutmeg, allspice, salt and pepper. When the crumbles and onions are ready, add them and stir to combine thoroughly. Leave any remaining bits in the skillet as long as they’re not burned… they’ll flavor the sauce.
  4. Prepare your muffin tin by spraying with cooking spray and then dusting with flour. Shake out excess flour into the sink.
  5. Using a large spoon, scoop the mixture equally into the 12 cups of the muffin tin. Use the back of the spoon to smooth the mixture into rounded mounds inside the cups, but don’t press them too firmly. You just want them to stay together.
  6. Place the filled muffin tin on the center rack in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove muffin tin from oven and let cool.

    While the muffins are baking, you can start on the cream sauce or work on anything else you need to prepare, like potatoes or vegetables. The meatballs can rest on the counter for a while if needed.


  7. In the same skillet you used for the onion/crumble mixture, you’ll start on the cream sauce. Add your reserved onions, 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp oil and heat over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and onions are translucent (or slightly browned on the edges, depending on your taste preference), add the flour and pinches of nutmeg and allspice, and whisk gently until completely absorbed and smooth, about 1 minute.
  8. Turn the heat to high and gradually add the broth to the saucepan, about 2-3 tbsp at a time. Constantly whisk the mixture gently (to avoid splashing), making sure the liquid has completely absorbed before adding more. As you do this the mixture will transform in appearance from grainy clumps, to pastry dough, to mashed potatoes, and finally a creamy smoothness.
  9. When all of the broth has been added, whisk in the milk and cream. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer. Stir frequently to avoid sticking or burning on the bottom of the pan. Adjust heat if needed to keep a gentle simmer.
  10. After sauce has thickened slightly, add ketchup (or Worcestershire sauce) and whisk to mix thoroughly.
  11. Gently remove baked “meatballs” from muffin tin — you should be able to twist them slightly with your hand to loosen them from the cups — making sure not to break them apart. Add them into the simmering cream sauce and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes or until sauce has reached desired thickness. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve 2 to 3 “meatballs” per person with mashed potatoes and a generous amount of cream sauce sprinkled with dill, along with vegetables and lingonberry or cranberry sauce.

Vegetarian (Vegan) Chili

I don’t envision this turning into a food blog, but I’ve been eating vegetarian/pescatarian for about 5 1/2 years now, and I’ve gotten to the point where I rarely cook with recipes, instead relying on my experience and familiarity with the ingredients I’m using to make things “from memory.”

The thing is… I’ve gotten better as a cook, but I’m not that good. Some of the things I make can be hit-or-miss, since the quantities of ingredients and details of the cooking process are slightly different each time.

So, when I really nail something — which does happen from time to time — I think maybe it would be a good idea for me to write up a recipe, before I forget everything.

Last night I made a vegetarian chili, and was quite pleased with the results. Thus, here is the “recipe” (written up after the fact), mostly so I can remember this later.

Vegetarian Chili

Makes about 6 servings. (Unless you’re me, in which case it’s more like 4.)

Ingredients

For chili:

1/4 cup canola oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper (or 1/2 of each), finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1 28-oz can (or 2 14-oz cans) diced tomatoes (with liquid)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tbsp maple or agave syrup
1 can chili beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:

minced cilantro
minced scallions
diced fresh cherry tomatoes
guacamole

Preparation

  1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add spices (chili powder, cumin, cayenne and oregano) and stir for about 20 seconds, then add onion, peppers and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add diced tomatoes and their liquid and stir. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Pour in vegetable broth and syrup and return to boil.
  3. Stir in all of the beans and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low.
  4. Cook uncovered for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in additional broth if chili is getting too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Pour into bowls and garnish as desired.

Additional Notes and Suggestions

  • Quantities for spices are approximate. (And, honestly, I didn’t measure any of them besides the chili powder.) Adjust to suit your taste.
  • “Chili beans” is kind of a nebulous term. I used a can of Westbrae Natural Organic Chili Beans, which is a mixture of pinto, kidney and black beans. You can use any kind of beans, really, although I think white beans are too delicate in flavor for this. But when I think of chili I think of kidney beans or black beans. And honestly, kidney beans in large quantities don’t “agree with me”, so I went with straight black beans for the second can. I know a lot of people make chili with just black beans, but for some reason I find that a little boring.
  • Sometimes canned tomatoes have herbs like basil added. Be sure you’re getting plain tomatoes.
  • Corn is a nice addition, but we didn’t have any in the freezer last night. Add 1 cup of frozen corn at the same time as the beans.
  • This recipe is vegan, but if you eat dairy, you can garnish with sour cream or shredded sharp cheddar cheese instead of (or in addition to!) the guacamole.
  • For breakfast the next day, heat up a bowl of the leftover chili and top with a poached egg.

Recipe: Scott’s not-so-famous guacamole

Here’s a recipe to celebrate the Fourth of July, or… anything. I love guacamole, and several years ago I figured out how to make it. OK, I used a recipe, but my own approach has evolved over time and I’m pretty sure it’s quite different from where it started. The important thing to know, though: there are no peas in this guacamole.

IMG_5221

Ingredients

4 ripe avocados
4 tomatillos
3-4 green onions
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 fresh green jalapeños (or other hot peppers of your choice)
2 tbsp lime juice (fresh squeezed if possible)
salt and pepper

How do you know if an avocado is ripe? If it’s hard, it’s underripe. If it’s really squishy, it’s overripe. A perfectly ripe avocado will be slightly soft when squeezed, but still a bit firm.

Method

1. Wash everything thoroughly. I’m a freak about this. Well, OK, don’t wash the salt and pepper.

2. Peel the papery leaves off the tomatillos, and rinse well to remove any sticky film. Place the tomatillos into a small saucepan and fill with water to cover. Place on high heat. Once the water boils, reduce heat a bit and simmer 8-10 minutes. (You really just want to blanch these, not cook them.)

3. While the tomatillos are blanching, finely chop the green onions, cilantro, and jalapeños. Optionally, remove the seeds from the jalapeños if you prefer less heat. Combine the chopped onions, cilantro and jalapeños in a medium-sized bowl. Add 1 tbsp of lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

4. When tomatillos finish blanching, remove from heat, drain well, and cover with ice cubes. Fill with cold water and allow to cool. After a few minutes, drain the tomatillos again. Cut out the tough stem portion, pour out any water they’ve absorbed (but don’t squeeze them), and place in a blender. Puree until smooth.

5. Cut around the skin of the avocado lengthwise to separate into two sections. Remove the pit by jabbing your knife blade into it and giving a twist. Scoop the flesh of the avocados out into a large bowl (not the bowl the other ingredients are in). Add 1 tbsp of lime juice and some salt and pepper, if desired, and mash with a fork or potato masher until all lumps are removed.

6. Pour the pureed tomatillos into the avocado, and stir gently until well blended. Add in the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

7. Chill for an hour or so if desired, or eat immediately. Eat within 24 hours, as surface may turn brown from oxidation. (If this happens, just scrape off the top layer and it will be bright green underneath!)