The Elf in the Kitchen


The Elf hers-elf is, me, Janne Swearengen, retired from the best career one could imagine as an analyst, researcher,  trainer, and Quality  Assurance specialist with the Center for Health Systems Research and Analysis at the University of Wisconsin and the Long Term Care Institute of Madison, WI.  I have met, listened to, and interviewed so many people who have made a difference in the lives of our vulnerable adults.

Following retirement in 2012, I became totally committed to a plant-based eating regimen and The Elf in the Kitchen was born.  Continuing the re-invention of s-elf, I am now The Movie Elf, The Book Review Elf and who knows what elf will appear next! Follow our culinary adventures and mishaps, if you please.

Welcoming 2020 in the Kinkey Elfery Kitchen

An Elfin Cookalogue

Southern tradition dictates that New Year's Day be celebrated with not only an abundance of food but specific foods that assure a productive year ahead. One of the hardest things to adjust to as a new plant-based eater was not having some kind of pork (jowl, hock, chop, bacon) to accompany the Black-eyed Peas, Greens (Turnip, Mustard, Collard, and/or Cabbage) and a cornbread derivative. But we we have discovered that these plant-based options are fine without the animals. So, here you have our New Year's Day Elf-fort. The video on the left is the tempeh sausage which is both easy, tasty, and full of great protein. The video on the right is the plant-based rendition of a southern treasure of a recipe called 'Hoppin' John. 

Not pictured are the ingredients for another New Year's Day staple..the mimosa. Rest assured those ingredients were on hand and enabled the Elf to have a delightful cooking experience.

Continuing on, both pictures are the 'Hoppin' John as is continues to develop as well as the tempeh sausage. We love highly seasoned food, so often find our way to the cayenne pepper and hot sauce.  There is also a shaker of Ghost Pepper Salt that will send your taste buds running for an ice cube.

And finally, the video of the 'Hoe' (or 'Johnny') cakes shows the tribulations of hot spots on a stove. There flame on the burner is high on one side when it's where it should be all over. This results in the uneven coloring/ toasted of the cakes. That being said, these were SO GOOD!! 

Or final plating included braised cabbage. One NOTABLE ingredient of 'Hoppin' John is Rice. We had some cooked 'Black Rice' ready to serve when both Big Solid and Your Elf decided ENOUGH is ENOUGH!!

And, finally, today's extravaganza...a great salad that is light and easy on the over extended stomach and challenged liver!! A nice return to normalcy and intermittent fasting. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL ELFSTERS AND ELFSTER-WANNABES!!


The Safari Club of Gulf Shores, AL -- VEGAN Options YES!!!

The Elf hers-elf is, me, Janne Swearengen, retired from the best career one could imagine as an analyst, researcher, trainer, and Quality Assurance specialist with the Center for Health Systems Research and Analysis at the University of Wisconsin and the Long Term Care Institute of Madison, WI.  We have met, listened to, and interviewed so many people who have made a difference in the lives of our vulnerable adults.

Following retirement in 2012, we became totally committed to a plant-based eating regimen and The Elf in the Kitchen was born.  Continuing the re-invention of s-elf, we  are now The Movie Elf, The Book Review Elf and who knows what Elf will appear next!

One of the challenges of eating a plant-based/vegan is finding restaurants that provide those options. Well, not only does the Safari club offer vegan options but also have them noted on the menu as well as servers who know how to describe them. So, let’s get to it!

This is a new restaurant and it is lovely. On the grounds of the Gulf Coast Zoo, it supports a safari theme. There is a nice full service bar situated in the center of the restaurant and an assortment of high top tables, regular dining tables and booths.  We are such noise aversive folks, we usually like a booth in a quieter part of any restaurant. 

Our server, Brooke, was on the spot with menus and to take our drink orders. We’d already perused the menu online, so there were no surprises...just trying to make up our minds as to what to select. We selected two small dishes/salads...the Cauliflower/Couscous and the Crunchy Slaw. My husband, Larry, decided on the Beet Burger with fries. I had my heart set on the Mushroom Tacos but alas, they had been removed from the menu. What the Chef offered to do was prepared another plant-based taco utilizing some of the same seasonings. I jumped on it.

By far the best dish of the night was the Cauliflower/Couscous salad. Both of us could have eaten a whole one ourselves and when we go back, that’s exactly what we’ll do. Larry’s Beet Burger was good though he did not particularly care for the pretzel bun. My Tacos were very good. I wonder how they would have been if they were served in a hard taco shell rather than soft. The Crunchy Slaw was good as well, though, again, the king of the meal was the Cauliflower/Couscous salad.

AND...just to go to a restaurant whose Chef and staff are committed to providing a variety of plant-based salads, small dishes, and entrees is delightful. We will put the Safari Club on our definite to return to list and enjoy the treats the continue to develop.


Eating Vegan in the Raleigh NC area

As most of you know, your Elf spent some time recently in the Raleigh, NC area visiting her brother, Jud, and his girlfriend, Suzanne. We not only had a great time at the 25th ProgDay Music Festival, but also finding some really cool vegan options. One would expect Raleigh to have a number of restaurants with Vegan options, which is true. We have eaten at the fabulous Fiction Kitchen on previous visits, so were eager to try another downtown hot-spot for vegans called 'Remedy'. It is not totally plant-based but does have some pretty good options for those of us who are. Your Elf ordered one of  'PETA's TOP FIVE SANDWICHES', theTempeh Tantrum. It was good but I think could have used a bit more tempeh seasoning and another type of vegan bacon. We make our own bacon, so we are spoiled when it comes to 'store-bought' products. 

You can see the sandwich here. It was nice but like we said, could have used a bit more oomph! And, we're pretty sure the avocado must have been under the tempeh because we really can't see it otherwise. The home-made potato chips were great! We included the vegan dessert menu but did not sample any...we were already full from our sandwich.

Our next 'find' was in downtown Smithfield, NC where Jud and Suzanne have their great store "Oak City Collection'.  All fresh ingredients, locally sourced farm-to-table, Under the Oak Café is a great addition to the food scene in Smithfield. We had the 'Fermented Forager' sandwich, which was DELICIOUS and full of flavor! Below is the menu and a picture of the 'deconstructed sandwich to give you an idea of all of the ingredients. A definite keeper!!


Carrot Hot Dogs…Part Deux

Never in a million years would your Elf have thought so much response would be generated by a carrot hot dog….but it did and we wanted to follow up. Our first elf-fort a few weeks back, using the marinade recipe from Shane & Simple, resulted in some good ‘dogs’ that were a tad too salty for us. There are two possibilities for that…the soy sauce we used and the length of time we let the ‘dogs’ marinate. Here is the link to Shane & Simple’s Carrot Hot Dog recipe in the event you’d like to give it a go yourownself. 

Nevertheless, we wanted to see if we could tweak Shane’s recipe a bit for a spicier dog. You know, or maybe not, as we age, our taste buds get a bit ‘wore out’ and often need a bit more spice. Such is the case for your Elf and Big Solid (the Elf’s long-suffering husband). So, we perused several ‘carrot dog’ recipes and plunged ahead, adding some new spices along the way. A head's up that this recipe does contain a bunch of ingredients but we can almost guarantee that most of you have them or something similar. We would also like to say that we are in NO WAY recipe developers! We tinker a lot but leave the REAL work of putting recipes together to talented folks like Shane Martin and Susan Voisin...giants among many vegan recipe creators.

Elfin Dogs


1/2 cup soy sauce or gluten-free/low sodium tamari

2 Tablespoons liquid smoke

2 Tablespoons vegan Worcestershire

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1 Tablespoon minced ginger

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)

2 cups water

1/2 cup rice or apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (OPTIONAL)

Our 'mise en place' for the Elfin Dogs


Carrot prep

Peel and sculpt 4-6 carrots to measure ‘bun length’ and have the rounded ends like a hot dog. We try to use larger carrots and pare/peel them to be the same circumference.  Who wants a skinny carrot weenie.

Steam your ‘dogs’ for 8-10 minutes or until they are ‘al dente’…cooked but still firm. If you boil them, it may take longer, so after 8 minutes, check them with a fork frequently to make sure they don’t overcook. Remove them from the heat and throw in an ice bath to stop further cooking. When they are cool to touch, take them out and pat dry.

Marinade prep

Easy peasy…throw the ingredient sin a blender and let 'er rip until all ingredients are fully blended.

‘Dog’ Prep

Place your cooled ‘dogs’ in a ziploc bag (a quart sized bag should be adequate) and pour your blended marinade over them, making sure the marinade covers completely. Get as much air out as you can and zip the bag closed. To be on the safe side of any potential spillage/leaks, we always put the bag in a larger plastic container with a lid. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours but up to 24, keeping in mind that longer they soak, the more intense the flavor.

When you can stand it no longer and are ready to cook…remove the ‘dogs’ from the marinade, pat dry again. We used a grill pan to get the char marks but grilling is most tasty. Just remember to make sure the grill is well oiled (sprayed or otherwise) so your ‘dogs’ don’t stick. They are vegetables and therefore have more tendency to stick. We also spray our ‘dogs’ with Pam or similar product just to be on the safe side. Get some good grill marks, then cover and cook until the texture/consistency of the ‘dogs’ is to your liking. Big Solid likes a harder texture; others may like a more soft texture (like a meat dog). Forks help you decide.

When done, you are ready to add the fixin’s (hot dog relish, vegan ketchup, mustard, mayo, onions, slaw….whatever) and pile on a plate with sides. We usually save our slaw for a side and splurge on sweet potato puffs. Enjoy!!

B.P.S. (Blog Post Script)  At lunch today, I had one of the two remaining 'dogs'. I wanted to try one 'naked' without any condiments or fixin's JUST to see how close it really came to a typical hot dog. Seriously good and seriously close. Happy Elf here.


Carrot Dogs and The Elf…Seriously!

Vegans never give up on finding new ways to make plant-based eating drool-worthy, and the evolution of CARROT HOT DOGS is no exception. Who doesn’t like a good hot dog off the grill in the summer time? We have tried these before and found them a true surprise! So, when Shane Martin of the Shane & Simple site and Facebook page posted a recipe for ‘carrot dogs’, we jumped on it. Most of the store-bought vegan ‘dogs’ are high in calories and fat, so this appeared to be a good option, especially for those who really need to watch their fat intake.

We got our ‘mise en place’. Mise en place is a French phrase for ‘get your stuff together before you start cookin’. We here in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen have long been notorious for plunging into a recipe only to find midway we were missing a key ingredient. NOT A GOOD WAY TO COOK!

For this recipe, there are actually two ‘mise en places’…the ingredients for the marinade, seen above, and the ingredients for the actual dogs themselves. Now, we took some time to trim our carrots to look like hot dogs by peeling, making them a bunworthy length, and trimming the ends to look rounded like a ‘real’ dog. The  marinade was made first and then we par-boiled the carrots just long enough for them to be slightly fork tender but not fully cooked. As Shane recommends, between 8 - 10 minutes. We lifted them into an ice bath after 8 minutes which worked great in the long run.

After the ‘wannabe’ dogs cooled a bit, we put them in a ziploc bag (gallon size) and filled it with the marinade. Then, just to make sure that bag did not leak or open unexpectedly, we put it in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. This went into the refrigerator where it luxuriated overnight. When removed from the bag, the really DID look like hot dogs!!

We were going to grill them but one look at the grill, that we have not used in recent memory, led us to clean it another day when it was not excruciatingly hot and cook the ‘dogs’ in the trusty old iron skillet. In keeping with the use of no oil, we used some of the marinade instead. Before the summer is out, though, we will grill them just to get that grilled taste. We do not use a gas grill but prefer the charcoal effort started without the dreadful starter fluid.

These actually turned out quite nicely with one big exception…they were on the salty side. Not unfixable in two ways…first, we used Bragg’s Liquid Aminos in our marinade instead of the option of Low Sodium Tamari and second we probably ‘over’ marinated. Indeed we WILL make these again becaue they are fun, tasty, and nutritionally sound alternatives to processed/store bought vegan hot dogs or the totally unhealthy real ones. We researched additional recipes and will tweak the original to make it so!

So, we bid you farewell from the Kinky Elfery Kitchen today. Who knows what your Elf will do next! Stay tuned, for sure... and, if you're a mind to...please share, follow and comment!

The Great Vegan Ice Cream Sandwich Adventure!

We here in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen are HUGE fans of Cook’s Magazine and have subscribed for years. Becoming vegan/plant-based has not deterred us one iota; we enjoy the challenge of ‘veganizing’ recipes that include meat, egg, or dairy. So when your Elf got the July/August edition, we were immediately drawn to ‘CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE ICE CREAM SANDWICHES’

Summertime in Mississippi screams for anything cool, with ice cream being among the most desired of all. AND, since we had such great fun and success baking our E.P.I.C. (Eating Plant-based Is Cool) cookies for the Crossroads Café a few years back, we  pounced on this article like a lightning strike. It didn’t take long to figure out how to make it plant based.

With so many good plant-based analogs (has the look and taste but not FAKE) for animal based ingredients these days, the capability of re-creating a recipe is even more achievable. Vegan alternatives for butter/margarine have gained not only popularity but also taste and texture. Miyoko’s Creamery, Melt, and even ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ (Vegan version) are among the options; ditto for egg alternatives such as Ener-G and Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacers.

The primary concern with using regular ‘ole’ cookies (vegan or otherwise) in an ice cream sandwich is the consistency of the frozen cookie itself. It may be delicious as a cookie but turns into concrete when frozen. Best we recall, the idea behind an ice cream sandwich is to enjoy and not wind up in the dentist’s office. 

Thus the major difference in this cookie dough is the texture of the dough prior to baking. The recipe calls for additional water to be added which makes the batter much softer. This is a bit intimidating but works!! In addition, browning the 'butter' adds a nuttier flavor to the cookie. We decided to be a bit adventuresome and add 1/3 cup of oatmeal to make them Chocolate Chip Oatmeal!!

Once the cookies are cooled, first in the pan and then on a rack, one can ‘match’ them up according to shape and size so that the sandwich is uniform. What worked best for us here in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen was to place the ‘bottom’ half cookie of the sandwich on cookie pan (keeping the parchment paper in tact), covering that with wax paper and then placing the ‘matching’ top half over the bottom. The wax paper will prevent the cookies from sticking together as they go into the freezer to harden. We covered the cookie sheet with foil as they went to the freezer for about an hour.

There are some really lovely non-dairy ice creams available and we selected two of our favorites for the sandwich filling—So Delicious Salted Caramel and Snickerdoodle. These are cashew cream based and simply outstanding. We let the creams soften in the refrigerator for about an hour to make scooping easier.  By the way, that scoop is a family heirloom; was my little Elfin Mama's scoop since 1953!

When the two layers of cookies were frozen, we commenced to make the sandwiches. WHAT FUN!! Since we were taking them to a party, we wrapped them in foil sheets and placed back in the freezer until time to pack and go!

We had so much fun making these ice cream sandwiches...they not last long at the party and no one could tell they were plant-based!!