Finally! Back in the Kitchen!

Not that I ever truly left it. It's just that I'm so happy to be able to use my kitchen to its fullest potential again, without dreading having to use the stove or the oven even for the smallest amount of time. The temps not only have dropped back down to average (and even below average!), but the evenings are cool enough to actually cool things down. When we have a heat spell here in Southern California, everything stays hot all the time—day AND night. Trees, grass, driveways, patio furniture, dirt, the siding on your house—nothing cools down overnight so the day starts as if it were a pre-heated oven. In Minnesota, even in extreme heat and humidity,  you could always count on the grass not only being soft and cool (something unheard of here), but actually cooling, like Mother Nature’s own version of a cool washcloth on your forehead. Of course, that comes with a price: mosquitoes, 12-foot snow drifts, and Al Franken as your Senator. But still, it’s one of the sensory experiences that I remember most from when I lived there—cool, soothing, and very green grass. So last night, the house totally open and a lovely breeze flowing through, I pulled together the necessary ingredients and kitchen tools, and set to work making dinner: Chesapeake Tempeh Cakes (from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan Brunch) served alongside a fresh salad and Castle Rock Winery’s crisp, Sauvignon Blanc made with grapes from Mendocino County.

Side note: I always hesitate to mention that I’m making/eating a salad because so many people think that salads are all that vegans eat. But here’s the thing: I love salads. Genuinely love them. It’s not a default meal for me. Unfortunately, people assume salads are bland. And they are when they are made with iceberg lettuce, unripe tomatoes, and shredded carrots and then drenched in thousand island dressing. But my salads are nothing short of a culinary delight, as seen in this photo:

One of Barb's favorite salads

I had some tempeh in the fridge that I wanted to use up, however, I generally use tempeh in heavier meals like Tempeh and Mushroom Bourguignon or Roasted Tempeh with Creamy Dijon Sauce. But I wanted to make a dinner that was light and summery that would go well with the now-perfect evening temps. When I saw the recipe for the Chesapeake Tempeh Cakes (crab cakes being the inspiration), I knew it would be perfect. As a bonus, I figured if all was successful, I could share the recipe with my good friend, Heidi, who went vegetarian a year ago (yay, Heidi! Happy one-year anniversary!) but still eats seafood.

Making breadcrumbs

Well, I’m here to tell you, People, that if you were to make these Chesapeake Tempeh Cakes, you would never, ever miss your crab cakes. I couldn’t believe the texture of these gems. They were mind-blowingly spot on to real crab cakes (or what I remember of them, at least…it’s been over decade since I last had one). And the flavors were entertaining to my taste buds. From the boldness of the Dijon mustard to the punch of the hot sauce and red wine vinegar to the bringing-it-all-together egoless notes of the ground ginger and dried oregano, there was nothing short of a wild party going on in my mouth. A case could be made to call Isa’s remoulade recipe a bit boring, despite the inclusion of capers, but because the tempeh cakes are so flavorful, you wouldn’t want the two to compete with each other. Save the fancier remoulade recipes for something that needs a little lift. These tempeh cakes could easily stand on their own. That being said, I liked the addition of the remoulade, which, because all the ingredients except for the capers were also in the tempeh cakes, just added a big exclamation point to the overall dish.

Chesapeake Tempeh Cakes

I have passed over this recipe several times before, always pausing to re-read the ingredients list and admire the photo, but found myself moving on because it seemed like it was going to be too much work. I’m here to tell you it’s not. Everything comes together so quickly and easily. Even steaming the tempeh in a simple concoction of water, soy sauce, and olive oil was ridiculously simple. The greatest challenge was keeping the cakes small in size so they hold together while cooking. I was tempted to ignore Isa’s suggestion to use less than a quarter-cup of the mixture per cake, but she was right. Anything bigger and they started to fall apart.

It’s safe to say that Heidi will be getting an email from me with lots of encouragement to try out this dish. Now, if only she could send me some of that wonderful Minnesota grass…