seitan is my motor



May 2014



Simple Pasta Dishes with Fancy Ingredients

spaghetti and vanilla sauce |

What do you eat when you have no idea what to cook? When you don’t want to cook in the first place? When you’d rather eat some bland toast instead of dragging a pot out of your cupboard? How about spaghetti with a simple tomato sauce? Made from fresh, local cherry tomatoes? With lots of garlic? And some vanilla? Yes, you read that right. A simple tomato sauce with garlic and vanilla. A fresh and moist vanilla pod cut open and fragrant seeds scraped out and mixed with garlic and oil. Vanilla with a sweet and slightly tobaccoish taste. Think about it. You still want to eat toast? No way, get that pot out!

This recipe serves one hungry person. It’s just a guideline, so adjust to your needs!

Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Vanilla (serves 1)

80 g (2.8 oz) spaghetti
salted water for boiling
1 tablespoon oil
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
200-300 g (7-10.6 oz)  cherry tomatoes, quartered
seeds from half a vanilla pod
a handful of sliced green olives (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Place the spaghetti in boiling salt water and cook according to package directions.

In a pan, heat the oil and add garlic. Fry for 1-2 minutes or until translucent, then add tomatoes and vanilla. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat or until the tomatoes start to break apart.

Drain spaghetti, add to pan and mix with tomatoes and olives, if using. Or try fresh basil instead of the olives. Season with salt and pepper.

tonka bean pasta |

If you wanna get even fancier than this, don’t buy a vanilla pot. Buy a tonka bean instead. Tonka beans are sometimes used as a substitute for vanilla and they share certain properties with that spice and are often prepared like vanilla pods. A whole bean cooked in liquid, such as milk, adds a lot of flavour to this liquid. The smell of tonka beans is very distinctive and strong, slightly sweet and somehow reminiscent of tobacco and sweet woodruff. But the tonka bean’s taste and smell is a bit more aggressive than vanilla, which is more rounded. I personally don’t think tonka bean can be used as a substitute for vanilla as it has it’s own very special flavour.

The French name for tonka bean is coumarou. From this the term coumarin is derived. Coumarin is a chemical compound present in many foods and spices: tonka beans, sweet woodruff, cassia bark (aka cinnamon), but also strawberries, blackcurrants, and cherries. A couple of years ago around Christmas time, when cinnamon stars popped up in German stores like every year around that time, authorities warned that eating these cinnamon stars might be bad for your health. The reason was that commercially prepared cinnamon stars are often made with  cassia bark, which is a cheap substitute for Ceylon cinnamon. That substitute is very common in German spice racks and commercially prepared foods which are supposed to contain cinnamon. Cassia bark contains a lot of coumarin. Coumarin can damage some of your organs if you eat too much of it and that’s the reason why tonka beans are banned in the US. But here in crazy Europe they are still legal! They are very expensive and it’s not that we use them every day. I bet that most people haven’t even heard about this spice before. It’s mostly used in perfumes and only sometimes as a food ingredient, mostly for fancy chocolates or desserts. So I assume that it’s safe to consume a couple of tonka bean scrapes once in a while.  (If you don’t feel comfortable about this or don’t have access to a tonka bean, it’s fine to make the following recipe with vanilla, too.)

Spaghetti with Chickpeas, Almond Parmesan, and Tonka Bean (Serves 1)

60 g  (2.1 oz) spaghetti (adjust if you want)
salted water for boiling
1 tablespoon oil
1 glove garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon grated tonka bean (or seeds from half a vanilla pod)
100 g (3.5 oz) cooked chickpeas
almond parmesan (recipe follows)
salt and pepper to taste

Place the spaghetti in a pot with boiling salt water and cook according to package instructions.

Heat oil in a pan and add garlic. Fry for one-2 minutes, or until translucent.

Add paprika, salt, and tonka bean and stir well. Fry for 1-2 more minutes, stirring constantly. Make sure the spices don’t start to burn.

Drain spaghetti and add to the pan. Add chickpeas and mix well. Serve with almond parmesan and add salt and pepper to taste.

Smoky Almond Parmesan

200 g (7 oz) almonds
1 tablespoon oil (optional)
1 teaspoon paprika powder
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
20 g (4 tablespoons) nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

Heat oil in a pan and fry the almonds for 5-7 minutes, stirring often. (Alternatively you can leave out the oil and roast the almonds in the oven. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Place almonds on a baking sheet and roast for 5-8 minutes. )

Let the almonds cool to room temperature and place in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until a crumbly, parmesan-like appearance is obtained. Store in an airtight container.

almonds and tonka beans |



May 2014



Mini Apple Crisp In A Jar. And Photography Backgrounds

vegan apple crisp |

Recently someone complimented me on the dark table I use for my photographs. Well, let me tell you a secret. That is not a table. It’s just a wooden plank. The small table under that plank is small, square, and painted with translucent varnish. It is useful but not very beautiful, at least not when used as a photography background. I thought about painting it differently but because I am lazy I got some wooden planks instead and painted them with dark brown acrylic paint. I needed two planks because the table I use for my pictures is placed in the corner of our living room, right next to the window. And the wall in the back is light orange. Great for the living room, but not so great for my pictures. Therefore I usually cover the wall with a second wooden plank. Lately I got a bit bored with these brown backgrounds. Thankfully there are many different methods and techniques to replace or change your photography backgrounds without spending a fortune.

For example you can buy some sheets of plywood at the home improvement store. These are cheap and the only thing you should keep in mind is their size. Mine are 59 x 42 cm (23.5 x 16.5 inches) and while these will not work with wide angle shots, they are large enough for an overhead shot with a 50mm lens. They are great with macro lenses and for close-up shots, too. If you need more space and think wide angle, then your plank or board should be larger.

I like to paint my wood with acrylic paint because it can be diluted with water. And afterwards your tools are easily cleaned with water, too. Since it is water-soluble, you can thin the paint, so that the texture of the wood will shine through easier if you want that. Another thing you can do is to use crackle paint. Crackle paint,  also called crackle finish or crackle glue is a clear varnish or glue that you apply between two layers of paint (also acrylic). To see the effect properly your layers have to be in two different colours, one light and one dark or the other way round. The crackle paint will make the upper layer contract and crackle so that your surface will look like a very old piece of garden furniture.  I love this great and inexpensive method for creating interesting backgrounds!

apple crisp ingredients |

Another paint I only recently discovered is chalkboard paint, which comes in many different colours and is very versatile. Many people use it for walls to let their kids draw on. It’s great for decorating flower pots and boards, too. I decided to finally give my photography table a well deserved makeover by painting it with black chalkboard paint. With the help of a couple of sanding paper sheets I removed the old varnish first. Then I painted the table. After drying the surface still had some texture from the brush strokes and the matte colour is great for photography as it minimises reflections.  Well, now I just have to tell F. that she has my permission to draw on the table.

table painted with chalkboard paint |

I have been reluctant to use white backgrounds in the past because they tend to make food pictures very bright. I also think the light colour removes contrast. I prefer dark backgrounds and lots of shadow in my pictures. That works well during summer, when there is enough natural light available. But during winter the white backgrounds will probably be a bit more useful.

vegan apple crisp |

When choosing backgrounds you need to keep in mind that you will have to clean them a lot. Personally I don’t think  it’s a good idea to spill chocolate all over my surface or dump a scoop of ice cream on a table only to get a dramatic picture. But from time to time I spill food, too. Transparent and matte varnish is great for this kind of purpose. You can paint over the cracked surface to make it water-resistant and to keep the upper paint layer from peeling of. A surface painted with chalkboard paint is already water-resistant since you are supposed to clean the chalk off. But it’s matte and a bit coarse so it’s always best to clean it with a wet towel or rag.

vegan apple crisp |

Now that I wrote so much about the paint and my new backgrounds I almost forgot my recipe. Mini apple crisps!  A friend gave us a giant box of organic apples from the Lake Constance area. They are small and tart and although I asked a couple of people about what to do with them, I mostly ate them as a plain snack until now. But these apples are so great for baking. This recipe makes four small servings. If you bake the crisps in canning jars, you can place a lid on them and simply store them in the fridge. They make a great breakfast or snack item. Or you can give them to your friends as a little pick-me-up.  And don’t forget to tell them that there’s still enough room in the jar for a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Mini Apple Crisp In A Jar (Serves: 4) For the apple filling

  • 4 very small apples (250-300 g)
  • 50 g (1/4 cup) dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground vanilla

For the topping

  • 5 tablespoons rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground vanilla
  • 1 pinch salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 200° (350°F). Have 4 small Weck jars (160 ml) or ramekins and a baking sheet ready.
  2. Core and finely dice the apples. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
  3. Divide between the jars.
  4. Combine all ingredients for the topping, mix well and divide between the jars as well.
  5. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm or cold.

vegan apple crisp | seitanismymotor

© 2007-2014 unless otherwise specified. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and images without express and written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to seitan is my motor with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.