How about a vegan “BLT”? I’ll write about my idea before I actually try it out; the idea’s great even if I don’t like what I get the first or second time

This September’s Food and Wine magazine is chock full of southern American cooking — with a good many twists that intrigue me.

One recipe calls for oven-baked bacon, cornbread-crusted fried green tomatoes, and baby arugula on toasted whole wheat or multi-grain bread.

Yep. It’d work. I think.

So would this. I may try it next week when my adventuresome neice, Sherry, spends a couple of days with us. She’s mostly, but not exclusively, vegetarian so she happily eats whatever I cook. I like vegetarian meals; but my friend Sam, for whom I’ve never cooked, is vegan. I’ll share this idea with him, if Sherry thinks it works.

Okay: whole wheat toast. Low-fat mayonnaise and basil pesto, half and half. The biggest leaves from my basil plant, plus a small handful of mint leaves, also from our patio.

I know I could bum a couple of green tomatoes from neighbors. But how about this — supermarket tomatoes here this summer are hard as rocks, so why not slice a couple, batter them with egg thinned with a teaspoon of sauvignon blanc, and fry those up as if they were green?

And then — are you ready for this — a trick I learned at a trade show a decade or more ago: big oyster mushrooms fried in peanut oil.

Yes! They taste so much like bacon, and can be made moderately crisp as well, that I think vegans should collect around this idea unless they’re unalterably opposed to oil. Really — hidden inside a sandwich, I bet it would amaze half the taste-testers.

We’ll see. If it works, I’ll report it. If you don’t see anything more about this idea here, well, we didn’t like it. Fair enough? — Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster.

Rock shrimp in a pesto “naked” quiche

Judy needed a dish to share at a potluck for some of her Masters swimming companions.

The refrigerator yielded some low-fat sour cream and some heavy whipping cream — not enough of either for a quiche, but together they’d be enough. Rich, yes, but . . . it was a party dish . . . .

I had part of a jar of Trader Joe’s traditional pesto. I had pine nuts and pecorino romano to beef up TJ’s pesto which is very good, but which happily accepts beefing up.

I had plenty of Sonoma jack to shred, and plenty of TJ’s jumbo eggs (still just under $2 a dozen, a bargain in these here parts — and they are local, to boot).

And I had a half-pound of frozen, raw, wild-caught rock shrimp.

I toasted a quarter cup of pine nuts, added some toasted sesame seed oil, and quickly sauteed the rock shrimp. Both the nuts and the seafood needed tending as they cooked. Knowing that, I’d whomped the eggs, cream, sour cream, grated jack and pecorino romano; now the mixture went into my ten-inch oven-tolerant non-stick skillet and I was on my way to a crust-less (“naked”) quiche.

I developed a bottom crust, in effect, over moderately high heat while the broiler heated. I wound up alternating the pan between the stove top and the broiler.

With all but the center firming up, I decided I’d better add some pecorino romano and Italian-herbed fine bread crumbs to the top. It was a good idea. It helped the quiche firm up. Better yet, the dry topping got golden-brown under the broiler and the product was . . . gorgeous!

Judy said the quiche tray flew around the room three times to an extended chorus of “Tell Bob this is wonderful!” I’d love to have been able to taste it. But, face it, after 40 years or more of cooking, I had every confidence it’d be good.

I could have gone to the party. But instead, I got to stay home and watch the Giants squeeze past the Braves on TV. That was good, too. — Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster.

If you’re in Italy, France, or northern California, it’s time to put away some lavender for drying so you can enliven the rest of your year

The flowers on our culinary lavender plant are ready for clipping and drying–and for use right now, of course.

So I just came in from the patio with a fistful of lavender stems that are just beginning to shrug off a few flowers. That means they’re very nearly dry . . . but not dry enough for permanent storage.

I wrapped a paper tower loosely around the flower ends, securing the paper with a coiuple of light-weight rubber bands. Another rubber band, severed and tied around the stems, let me hang the bouquet in the kitchen, between the refrigerator and some of my Revere pans–a space the spiders love, and still will love (who doesn’t swoon over the scent of lavender?). Next spring, I’ll take the bunch down and put the flowers into an empty spice jar.

A couple of nights ago, I’d found almost a half-pound albacore tuna steak, wild-caught, at a give-away price because it was supposed to be eaten that day or the next. I don’t have any health authorities monitoring my private culinary practices, so the steak was out of date when I seared both sides, smacked a small handful of last year’s lavender flowers and some fresh-crushed black pepper on one side, and gently finished cooking the tuna in half-water, half-wine (white).

Lavender and black pepper do wonders for an already wonderful piece of one of God’s choice offerings to humankind. I don’t like my tuna totally raw inside, but this was nice and pink inside and tan and crusty on the top side when I plated it.

At the last minute before de-panning, I’d popped some frozen peas with tiny white onions into the liquid, turning the heat off at that point. The veggies barely heated through and, with the tuna, boy–what a treat! I didn’t even need tartar sauce or anything else except a few torn basil leaves. I can still almost taste that treat.

Lavender is no big deal to grow, harvest, and use. I recommend it. I will tell you what I drank with this dish: Wildhurst Vineyards 2005 Lake County Reserve sauvignon blanc–inexpensive but not easily found. I recommend visiting them at and, if you wish, dropping them a note to find out where you might find the wine I enjoyed (be warned–it may be out of distribution; The Fearless Taster often picks up bargain close-outs). –Bob Cramer, August 1, 2010.