Veggie Burger #2: Corn and Cheese Cakes


After trying Deborah Madison’s Wild Rice Crepe-Cakes (see previous post), I realized that a simple pancake can be transformed into a full meal, simply by stirring in a few ingredients before cooking.  I wanted my pancakes to fill the role of a burger.  It needed to be filling, savory with a good dose of umami, and have a heft to it. Something when you pick it up, will let you know that eating this is more than a light snack. So I got to work.  Click here for the recipe.

I took a basic whole wheat pancake recipe and added sharp cheddar cheese for the umami and deliciousness factor.  Since I had cooked wild rice left over from the Wild Rice Crepe Cakes, I kept that for the heft and for an interesting texture.  But I think other grains would work just as well – I’d like to try these with some cooked barley or quinoa. Then I finely chopped some veggies to for flavor and crunch.  I was in the mood for some southwest flavor, so I used green onion, fresh corn, and poblano pepper.   I made the cakes quite large, but small would work as well.

The result:  hefty, beautiful cakes.  I was afraid the cheese would add too much oil and weigh the batter down, but it worked.  They weren’t light and airy, but who wants a fluffy burger?  They actually rose pretty well, and the cheese flavor wasn’t overpowering.   The vegetables were fun and flavorful, especially the corn.  Each bite gave a little burst of moist deliciousness.

We ate them topped with salsa, and they got high marks from the whole family.  They would probably be good cold the next day, but all of ours got gobbled immediately.

Veggie Burger Verdict: These are definitely contenders in the Veggie Burger Quest.  They held together well, had good deliciousness and umami, and had the heftiness I’m looking for.  Negatives:  you wouldn’t be able to cook these on a grill, and they would be unhappy encased in a bun.  They provide their own breadiness.


Corn and Cheese Cakes

Big savory pancakes packed with grains, vegetables, and cheese. The veggies stay moist and the grains give an interesting texture. Top with your favorite salsa.  Two of these makes a whole meal.



  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pepper – your choice of heat.  I used poblano, very mild
  • 1/2 cup corn, fresh or frozen (but fresh will be better)
  • 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • canola oil
  • salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil or melted butter
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup cooked grains – I used wild rice, but quinoa, brown rice, or barley would also be good
  • freshly ground black pepper

Heat a little canola oil and briefly saute the onion, pepper, and corn for a couple of minutes.  Don’t overcook – just cook enough so that they are softened.

In a blender, combine eggs, salt, milk, oil or melted butter, ground pepper, and flour.  Blend until uniform.

Stir in the sauteed veggies, cheese, and cooked grains.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy frying pan or griddle.  Put enough batter on the pan to make big pancakes, about 5″ diameter, making sure to get some of the veggies and grain into each.

Flip when the edges are dry and the bottom is browned, in traditional pancake fashion, about three minutes on medium heat.

Brown the other side, then serve with a topping of your favorite salsa.

Serves 4-6 people.



Veggie Burger#1: Wild Rice Cakes

IMG_1052For Veggie Burger #1, I decided to use a Deborah Madison recipe, because she has never failed me. I made the Wild Rice Crepe-Cakes found in her wonderful book Vegetable Literacy, and they were both easy and delicious.  We topped them with sauteed swiss chard and onions,  with a dab of sour cream.


These are simple patties with wild rice and fresh herbs. The The scallions, chives, and fresh tarragon give an interesting flavor, the the wild rice added texture and earthy notes.  A delicious light meal.


However, as entries in the Veggie Burger Quest they are not what I am looking for. They are pancakes with interesting additions, and are too thin and delicate to fill the role of a burger.  But it got me thinking – what if I kept Madison’s approach of a savory pancake, but increased the veggies and the grain?  That idea led me to Veggie Burger #2:  Savory Corn, Cheese and Rice Cakes.  More on those coming soon.


Quest of the Veggie Burger

I’m not a big fan of veggie burgers.  Usually when I’m served one it is soggy in the middle from being frozen, a murky brown color, and tastes of soy and not much else.  When I try making a batch, they usually fall apart, or are soaked in oil.

But there have been shining moments – where I bit into a patty, crusty on the outside, tender inside, packed with flavor.  I want that in my life.  I want my Veggie Burgers to live up to their potential. To that end,  I have been collecting recipes and we shall see f I can unlock the secret of the Veggie Burger.

Criteria for a Veggie Burger:

  • Savory, not sweet
  • More than one ingredient (Slabs of tofu or portobello mushroom don’t count)
  • Burgerish shaped – either by shaping a patty or a pouring out batter like a pancake
  • Cooked on a hot flat surface, such as a frying pan, grill or baking sheet
  • No meat, but eggs and dairy are okay


High Rise Whole Wheat

high rise biscuits 062215

Okay, I love whole wheat.  It has a great nutty taste when fresh, and you can feel virtuous and healthy when eating it.  Whole wheat is good for you,.  But it is not so easy to bake with, often giving flat, dense, uninspiring results.  So out of frustration, I haven’t used it much, or just in small quantities.

But in the latest issue of Cooks Magazine (July/August 2015) there is a great recipe for 100 percent whole wheat pancakes.  You ignore all the conventional pancake rules (beat as little as possible) and beat them ’til you can beat no more.  You end up with light, fluffy,  pancakes.

The author explains that this works because of how gluten behaves in the the two flours.  In white flour, there is a high percentage of gluten, which quickly forms a network of strands.  The more you mix and knead it, the more the strands develop.  That’s why we knead bread – to get a nice, dense structure.  But in pancakes, we don’t want that dense structure – it tightens everything up, giving you a flat, dense pancake instead of a light fluffy one.  So over-mixing pancake batter is a cardinal sin, giving you sad, tough little bready discs.

But in whole wheat, there is a lower percentage of gluten, so that  gluten structure takes longer to develop.  In addition, the bran in the whole wheat cuts through the gluten structure that does form.  So with whole wheat, lots of beating doesn’t hurt the rise when cooked – in fact, it improves it, because you get more air trapped in the batter.

So I made these well beaten whole wheat pancakes, and the results were amazing and delicious, light and fluffy, with a great nutty flavor. I was astounded. Then I started thinking about my biscuit dilemma.   I am not good at making biscuits. Any kind of biscuit.  A good biscuit is light and joyful, like those biscuits could just carry you off to biscuit heaven at any moment.  My biscuits are earthbound, tough and sullen.  And my whole wheat biscuits are even worse.  My whole wheat biscuits are lumpy and rocklike, the trolls of the baked goods world.

But maybe I could change all that if I treated them like the pancakes?  Maybe they just needed more beating, more mixing.  Maybe they were just feeling neglected?  I decided to give it a shot. The only big issue was the butter, which needs to stay cold to give you a nice flake.  I decided to try kneading it in at the end.  I adapted a simple rolled biscuit recipe from Joy of Cooking, replaced the white flour with whole wheat, mixed and kneaded it thoroughly, used my mother’s trick of folding it over to help it flake and rise (thanks Mom!), cut out the biscuits, and popped them in the oven.

I  ended up with a batch of tall, flaky, and tender whole wheat biscuits.  The taste of the wheat was distinct, nutty and slightly sweet.  These were the first successful whole wheat biscuits I have ever made! Thank you for the inspiration, Cooks Magazine! My biscuits have been rescued from trolldom!

We gobbled them up with dollops of jam. They would also be great as a base for strawberry shortcake, with a bit of sugar in the dough. I am considering cutting some of the butter next time – they were delicious, but almost too flaky and tender.  Here’s the recipe:

High Rise Whole Wheat Biscuits

Use fresh whole wheat flour, not the stuff in the back of your cupboard – it gets rancid and you lose the nutty, slightly sweet flavor of the wheat. This recipe gives you a flaky, buttery biscuit.  If you want it less flaky, try cutting the butter smaller and knead it in more.

4 Tbs cold butter
2 cups whole wheat flour – fresh as possible
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup milk plus 1 Tbs for brushing biscuit tops

1. With a knife or pastry cutter chop the butter into small chunks.  Add 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, and chop some more, until you have a fairly uniform mixture of ball bearing size chunks.  Put in freezer for at least 10 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

3. Stir together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, and baking powder until will dispersed.

4. Add 1 cup of milk. Whisk vigorously until too sticky to whisk.

5. Use some of final 1/4 cup flour to flour board and hands, and knead until dough is no longer sticky and wants to stay together, about 5 minutes of kneading.

6. Use that last bit of flour to flour rolling pin, then roll dough out in rectangle.

7. Remove butter mixture from freezer.  From this point try to work quickly, so that butter stays cold.  Spread butter mixture evenly over the dough.

8. Fold dough over the butter, then knead in to spread it around.  Just five or so kneads will do it. Mush any large chunks of butter, but it’s okay if there are small chunks – it helps make the biscuits flaky.

9. Use last little bit of flour on board and rolling pin and roll out again, to about 1/4 inch thick.  Fold over once and roll it out gently once more, to stick it all together.  Dough should be about 1/2 inch thick.

10. Cut out biscuits.  You can use a biscuit cutter or glass, but I think a rolling pastry cutter or pizza cutter works even better, as long as you don’t object to rectangular biscuits.  It doesn’t pinch the edges down, and I think that gives a better rise in the oven.

11. Place on ungreased baking sheet, brush tops with milk.

12. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, or until browned.

Yield: 12-16 biscuits

Oven Temperature: 450°F

Cooking Times
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Back to Cooking – going French

I have cut back on my hours at work and one of my goals is to take better care of my kitchen. It’s a good time to explore new recipes and write about them here. No more take out!  Although there is some awfully good take out around… and fish tacos are cheap.  Maybe I’ll write about that too.

David just had a birthday and didn’t want a present.  What he wanted was a meal.  A French meal:  coq au vin and crepes suzette.  I pulled out Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, James Peterson’s Cooking, sharpened my knives, bought large quantities of butter and wine, and got to work.  To make Julia Child’s coq au vin, you actually have to use four different recipes:  brown chicken stock, braised onions, roasted mushrooms, and the final coq au vin.  I spent a lot of time flipping pages.  I bought a whole chicken because I was supposed to use the giblet and neck for stock.  Alas, my poor bird was giblet and neckless.  First dilemma. I ended up using scraps and the carcass.  That worked pretty well.

Second dilemma: I had to butcher the chicken.  As a mostly vegetarian person, this was new territory.  I had some pictures to follow, but somehow my chicken and the detailed chicken diagrams did not match.  Perhaps my bird was missing more body parts than I first thought?  I soldiered on and started hacking away, with a brief intermission when I hacked my thumb.  There was quite a bit of blood, but I managed to miss the chicken.  Human blood was not in the recipe, and I did not want to start over.  I ended up with a few extra pieces of fowl, but hey, who’s counting?

After that was fairly plain sailing, made easier by the large quantities of burgundy splashing around.  After a few hours of page flipping, a lot of stirring, and a few burns here and there, we sat down to an amazing dish.  The chicken itself was slightly overcooked, but the sauce, the onions, and mushrooms were so incredible it didn’t matter.  It is an experience not to be missed.  Julia Child suggests having it with potatoes, but I think you have to have some kind of bread as well, to sop up every bit of the incredible sauce. Otherwise people will start licking their plates, which is not really a part of an elegant dinner.

Then the dessert:  Crepes Suzette.  I have never eaten this, or even seen it, so research was needed.  Apparently it was all the rage in restaurants in the 1970’s, with waiters dishing up flaming sauce over perfectly folded crepes.  It sounds fun.  I looked to see if it was on any local restaurant menus, but no.  It definitely should be revived.  Flaming crepes – who wouldn’t want that?  Plus, after we ate it, we discovered that it is a wonderful dish – elegant and delicious, a grown up dessert with a mixture of bitter orange rind, sweet juice, rich smooth butter, and deep flavors from the Grand Marnier, all served over delicate crepes.

I’ve made crepes before without much trouble, but the elaborate directions for how to handle these dessert crepes intimidated me, especially the part about flipping them over using your fingers, because they are too delicate for a spatula.  I personally prefer not to pry things off hot pans with my fingers, and I was suspicious of Peterson’s casual comment that if you do it right you won’t get burned. Apparently I did it wrong.  Multiple burns ensued.  In the end I  pried up the edges with a spatula and then grabbed on with my fingers.  That worked, and the crepes came out great. .

I ditched Julia Child’s traditional version of the sauce, which involves rubbing orange peel with sugar cubes, until the oil soaks into the sugar.  I haven’t seen a sugar cube for years.  (That’s actually kind of sad.  I liked dropping them in hot tea and watching them dissolve.)  I went with James Peterson’s recipe, which is very simple – it’s just orange zest and orange juice cooked down and mixed with a whole lot of butter, You add Grand Marnier or Cognac at the end and light it on fire.  We turned out all the lights and oohed and aahed.  Then we poured it over the crepes, and there was great joy.  It was totally worth the burned fingers.

I made side dishes as well, and fish for the pescatarians.  It turned into quite a feast:

Parker House Rolls (Joy of Cooking). They didn’t rise as well as I wanted, but they were important for sopping up the coq au vin sauce.  A baguette would probably be even better. Grade:  B

Peas in cream (Grandma Nellie’s recipe).  Classic and easy, Grade A+

Garlic coated tilapia (from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican – outstanding) Grade A for the recipe, B+ for the cook (I didn’t brown the fish quite enough)

Parsley potatoes.  Grade:  A  How can can you go wrong with new potatoes and lots of butter?

Coq au Vin (Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking) Grade:  A for the recipe (I didn’t make it A+ because of all the page flipping required).  A- for the cook – the chicken was overcooked, but everything else was terrific.

Crepes Suzette (James Peterson, Cooking) Grade:  A, despite the burnt fingers.

Overall dinner grade:  A.  Yum! David seemed very happy with his birthday present.  My fingers are recovering.

Swiss Chard with chick peas and coconut milk

I bought a beautiful bunch of swiss chard at the farmers market (see previous post), and realized I didn’t know how to cook it.  I associate it with bitter well-cooked greens that my grandfather used to try to make me eat.  I came up with this simple dish that changed my attitude.  It’s so simple I almost didn’t bother to write it down, but everyone who ate it agreed it deserves a recipe.  I served it over polenta – delicious, fast and easy.

Swiss Chard with garbanzo beans and coconut milk

The coconut milk smooths out the slightly bitter flavor of the swiss chard., but doesn’t drown it out.  You can substitute spinach or other greens for the swiss chard.  If you use spinach, reduce the cooking time.  Try serving it with polenta – you can cook the polenta in the time it takes to prepare this dish.

1 large bunch swiss chard
1 onion chopped
1 can, 8 oz garbanzo beans or 1 1/2 cups, cooked
1 can, 8 oz coconut milk
1 Tbs thai chili paste
1 Tbs canola oil (or other low saturated fat oil)

1. Heat the oil in a large heavy frying pan or wok.

2. Add the chopped onions, cook until clear and soft, about 3 -5 minutes.

3. Add the chili paste and garbanzo beans, cook briefly on medium heat, stirring constantly.

4. Rinse the swiss chard thoroughly, remove coarse stems, then chop into bite sized chunks.

5. Add the chard to the pan, cook stirring frequently, until the chard is bright green and tender enough to easily chew, about 3 minutes.

6. Reduce heat to medium low, add the coconut milk.  Cook stirring constantly until it is heated and the flavors have a chance to meld, about two minutes.

Servings: 6

Total Time: 15 minutes

Author: Janet Gastil
Source: Gastil Family Cooking Class