When I first started cooking from cookbooks, I was strict to the letter. As time went by, I found I had to tweak things a little, either because they contained onions (which make my breath sad) or eggplant or mushrooms (which make Mister sad). The more I cooked, the more comfortable I became with tweaking, so that now I can even mix together two recipes the way an artist my blend a few paints on her pallet (though I'm usually surprised when they come out this well)...
Last night's dinner was Easy Manicotti Alla Romana from The Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook. In case you were wondering, there is actually a way to further simplify a recipe with "easy" in the title. Ironically, but maybe not unexpectedly, the shortcut came from another recipe for Cheese Manicotti on the back of the pasta box.
Just as I was gearing up to be annoyed by the extra step (and extra time) of having to boil the manicottis first, then stuff them with the awesome filling (verrrrry carefully so they don't break apart) before covering them with marinara sauce and baking them for 45 minutes, I saw my little miracle: according to the manicotti box, I could stuff the nice, dry, rigid pasta with the stuffing without boiling it first, and all I had to do to ensure they were not still rock hard when they came out of the oven was add a cup of water to the marinara sauce!
It's so exciting when that nonsense is true. The spinach and "cheese" filling was also quite flavorful and good. The cookbook almost had it right without my help, but they wrote for me to add a 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese to the tofu "ricotta" so I substituted the same amount of nooch. The final tweak involved spinach. For reasons I will probably never know, the author of the recipe felt like it needed a ratio of 48oz of frozen spinach to 10oz of tofu. Mister's eyes almost popped out of his head when I shared that and he was quick to agree with me that two 10oz blocks of spinach were far more fitting to the 14oz block of tofu.
Yesterday afternoon, I spent a lot of time flipping through pages and furrowing my brow and then thinking I had everything figured out until I consulted with Mister and found that I was doing it wrong. Well, maybe not all of "it" but certainly some of it. I figure that there will probably be plenty of people grabbing last minute Thanksgiving things on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, and I don't want to be one of them, so I wanted to plot out my Thanksgiving menu along with the regular week's menu and shop for the whole lot over the weekend. Now seems an opportune time to share the "normal" part of the upcoming menu, since dinner came from it...
1. Cottage Pie because I still haven't made the seitan and at this point, I may just buy it.
2. Farfalle with Shallots and Chard from Celebrate Vegan, because I have been waiting to remake this for nearly a year and now I have my new cookbook. By the way, the rest of this week's abbreviated menu comes from Celebrate Vegan so I'm not going to bother writing it again.
3. Pasta with Red Peppers and Basil because this is also a super recipe that makes Mister happy.
4. Jambalaya, because I need another jambalaya recipe like I need another beans-n-rice recipe or another pasta e fagioli recipe, but the ingredients were just so intriguing and this was a recipe I did not have the opportunity to test.
Why not, you ask?
When Dynise communicated her desires and expectations to the whole group of us testers, she requested that we make the recipe exactly as written and then make it a second time if we felt the need to tweak it. I completely respect that, since she won't know how a recipe she wrote came out for someone else if they don't use the recipe she wrote, ya know?
As a result, I did a lot more cooking with onions than I was used to, or comfortable with, but in the course of doing so, found that it's not always a terrible thing. In fact, being "forced" to follow her recipes without what had become a natural inclination to tweaking was delightfully education and helped me to expand my repertoire further because I used ingredients I would never choose on my own.
Nevertheless, there were many recipes I could not test because they contained an ingredient to which Mister was allergic or had an aversion. Now that I have the cookbook in its completed form, I can find substitutes for tempeh and mushrooms so Mister doesn't end up in the emergency room or wake me from a sound sleep with his moaning and wincing. I can sleep through a police raid outside our window but I can't sleep through the aftermath of feeding Mister tempeh.
Fortunately, my tweak-creative mind was able to find an adequate substitute for the tempeh bacon I was supposed to use in Dynise's delightful Jambalaya in the form of Hickory-Smoked Tofurky deli slices. I just unwrapped the whole stack and "diced" the slices - it was possibly even easier than if I had used tempeh bacon with the added benefit that tonight won't be the night I'm widowed.