Friday, July 31, 2009

curried chickpeas with chutney bulgher

I finally made the Curried Chickpeas with Chutney Bulghur tonight. It was...interesting. It took me a few bites to start to appreciate the combination of flavors. Granted, I got the Sweet and Spicy Mango Chutney by Patak's, so that may have influenced the outcome of the bulghur being just a little too sweet for my husband's taste. It was certainly unlike anything I've made before. The chutney bulghur was sweet and pungent, with very strong ginger notes, whereas the curried chickpeas and tomatoes were very savory and delightful. My favorite part of the recipe was this mind-blowing moment:

"combine the chickpeas, tomatoes, curry powder, cumin, and turmeric in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then simmer gently for 5 minutes."

This simple second step of the recipe caused me to read back through the ingredients and the recipe itself three times, convinced I was missing something. You know, nothing important, just the oil or broth or water I was supposed to add to simmer. Well, no matter how many times I reviewed the recipe, there was nothing! I thought, "I don't know about this," but I gave it a try. Of course, I had forgotten that the heat would cause the tomatoes to break down and create a delightful (and chunky) sauce with the spices.

According to the author, this recipe will serve 6. Unless I have serious misperceptions on how big a medium tomato is, I cannot imagine how this recipe would produce 6 main course servings. I'll give it four. Eh, on second thought, I suppose if we had added the suggested flatbread, steamed broccoli, and cucumber salad, it could have fed six, but only modestly. As in, not in America ;)

Anyway, the way it is in the book, this recipe will probably never find its way onto my table again. It wasn't a spectacular failure; Mister had seconds, and I'll have the leftovers for lunch. It was just too strong a combination, between the very gingery mango chutney and the bold, savory curry. The curry may find its way onto a differently prepared grain, though.

where have all the cowboys gone?

Chivalry is dead. I don't care what anyone else says. It surprised even cynical-old-me, though. I was plodding home from Whole foods, fully laden with goods - I would have thought I looked more like a pack-horse, and maybe that confusion led to the situation. As I came to an intersection (mind you, I'm walking with a bag of groceries on my back and one in each hand = 3 heavy bags), some jerk in a pickup truck from a neighboring state I won't name felt like I was in the way of his car proceeding through the stop sign. Not only did he barely stop, but he also felt the need to start going before I was completely through the crosswalk (in which I had the right of way as a heavily-burdened pedestrian/packhorse), and then he needed to yell something stupid out of his window at me. Evidently, I'm the jerk for crossing the street. I'll spare your tender eyes from my response to him.

Anyway, I finally made it home and put away all my fun finds, so I will tell you about my menu for this week, as well as a quick review of the rest of Vegan Express while I drink my fourth glass of water (it's kind of hot out in Philadelphia today).

The second half of the book is also great. I'm still working my way up to serving "complete meals," as in including side dishes and starters and possibly dessert, so the second half is not currently as useful to me as the first part. When it's all said and done, the best part of the book, for me, is currently the middle - chapters 2-6. There are some things in my life that may change soon and allow me the time to start experimenting with those smaller dishes though...although I can't honestly say that dessert will be a regular occurrence. My husband and I keep our boyish/girlish figures by designating dessert as a "sometimes food."

I found this week's menu in Chapter 4 - Pasta and Noodles, East to West; Chapter 5 - Pizzas, Big Quesadillas, and Wraps; and Chapter 6 - Salads with Substance. I glanced through Chapter 7 - Salads and Veggies on the Side, but really didn't bother with chapter 8 - sauces and salad dressings, or chapter 9 - Sweet Finales, because I don't eat a lot of salads, and when I do, a simple vinaigrette will do (as in putting vinegar and oil in a container, shaking it, and pouring it). As I mentioned, dessert is an occasional thing, and I didn't want to tempt myself.

I'm having a happy and productive day. I'm hoping it will become more productive and a little more creative later, and I do expect to finally make the chickpea dish tonight, so I will probably fill in more details later tonight, after dinner. I still have a lot to do outside before it starts raining, so for now, here is this week's menu (yes, in my world, the week starts on Friday) and once again, they are all from Vegan Express, except the Fiesta Quesadillas - I can't get into vegan cheese.

1. Curried Chickpeas with Chutney Bulghur
2. Seitan Chow Fun
3. Pizza More-than-Margherita
4. Fiesta Quesadillas
5. Spinach, Artichoke, and Chickpea Salad
6. Seitan and Polenta Skillet with Fresh Greens

Thursday, July 30, 2009

other people's food tastes better sometimes

So, I've had better days at work than today. By the time I got home, I had figured out the one thing that would make all the sucky go away - a dinner I didn't have to make. Don't get me wrong, cooking gives me great joy and most of the time is all the stress relief I need in a day, but today was different. I was at the end of my rope in so many different ways. I could have cooked, really, but I had my mind set on three things: vegan rosemary foccacia, Urban Riesling, and Catalan Tempeh - in other words, I really wanted to have a nice, luxurious dinner at what is becoming one of my favorite restaurants - Horizons. Fortunately, my doting husband was willing to oblige.

A few roadblocks presented themselves...the dining room was full enough that the host asked if we had reservations. I asked if we could sit outside - the humidity was mostly broken and there was a nice breeze anyway. Also, I saw a sign that reminded me of something I had known but forgotton - Tonight, Horizons hosted a local Vegan Drinks event upstairs. The one thing that kinda bummed me out though, was that I knew what I wanted before I got there, and when I looked at the menu, it was no longer there. I asked the server, and he explained that some people were having trouble "committing themselves to an entire main dish of tempeh." That's too bad - it was delightful. The Catalan Tempeh was braised in some kind of savory marinade, laid atop a bed of tiny black beluga lentils (vegan caviar) and garnished with an odd, but tasty, green mush. As I mentioned earlier, my husband is allergic to tempeh, so when we go out, I try to get a tempeh dish because I like it. So, taking the server's recommendation, I got the Crispy Tempeh Tacos. I wish I had pictures, because the presentation there is outstanding, but we've had our digital camera nearly two years and have used it only a handful of times before I started photographing dinner every night (to Mister's amusement), so it's not one of those things I think of. Forgive me - I'll try to remember next time. Instead, I'll just descibe our feast:

We started with an order of Jamaican BBQ Seitan with Jicama Slaw and some kind of weird orange mustard. I let Mister have the mustard - I'm not a fan. The BBQ Seitan was incredible - my husband was talking about something when I took my first bite and I mindlessly interrupted him with my exclamations of awe. We also had the always delightful homemade Rosemary Foccacia with herbed olive oil for dipping (gratis). For dinner, Mister had the Grilled Seitan laid upon grilled spinach and mashed yukon potatoes, and topped with a roasted red pepper filled with something that looks (and tastes) like baba ghanoush. I had the Crispy Tempeh Tacos - two battered and cooked (couldn't tell if they were baked or fried) hunks of dense tempeh, laid upon two soft tortillas that had been criss-crossed with preserved lemon aioli and topped with some completely bizarre (but very good) pickled zucchini and beet slaw. On the edges of the plate were two reddish chunky pools - it seemed like a red cucumber relish - very refreshing and it didn't taste at all like it looked. We also shared an order of smushed fingerlings, drizzled with truffle oil, dusted with sea salt, and roasted. They smell awful but taste so good. I had a glass of my Urban Riesling and finished the meal with Saffron Creme Brulee with Pistachio Biscotti. I was intrigued by the use of saffron in a dessert, and I really wanted to see what vegan creme brulee tasted/felt like. It was good - it didn't hold its shape as well as "real" creme brulee, nor did it mimic the texture closely, but it tasted fantastic and that's really what matters. I'm still mulling over the use of saffron, though.

In all the excitement, I did manage to put together my menu for the upcoming week, but I think I will wait to share that with you tomorrow, when I have more time to talk about the rest of the book. Until then, sleep with angels.

(that's my little brat prince, all tucked in with his blanket and pillow...spoiled only child)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

winey wednesday

I (almost) never cook on Wednesdays. It's hubby's late day at work, so he doesn't even get home until about 9:30 and has no desire to eat at that time, and I have never been especially motivated to cook for only me. When he used to travel a lot, I had a lot of cereal dinners.

So, in lieu of a tale of my kitchen adventures, we'll save the chickpea curry for tomorrow night. Let's talk about wine - Riesling, in particular. Riesling is pretty much the only white wine I'll drink, aside from a very occasional (as in not-even-yearly) pinot grigio. I have recently discovered that a lot of people like this wine in the summer, so there are a wealth of wine recommendations in my food magazines that offer suggestions for Riesling. So...I decided to branch out from my go-to label, Hogue Cellars in Washington (state).

I had a kind of Goldilocks and the Three Bears experience. Or, to go Really Theatre-geeky, an Into the Woods experience, in which going into the wood (great unknown) made the known mean more. I'll skip that for now, though, since it's been a decade or more since I've even bothered with that musical and I'm probably misinterpreting or misquoting it, but I'll have the melody stuck in my head for the rest of the night.

ANYWAY, I compared three Rieslings:
1. Hogue Cellars (Washington)
2. Polka Dot (Germany)
3. Clean Slate (Germany)

Granted, my quest began with the desire to find Urban Riesling, which I had recently fallen in love with, aided my neighborhood vegan restaurant, Horizons. Long story short, I went to the two wine stores near my home and neither had it, but I felt compelled to buy something at each since I was there. I picked up the Polka Dot because it was just adorable - a cobalt blue bottle with white lettering and hot pink trim. I couldn't help it, even though I knew the pretty bottle could be compensating for crappy wine, but I took my chances. I picked up Clean Slate because it had come highly recommended as a good summertime wine from, I believe, Health magazine. It also had an attractive bottle, but in a much more masculine, understatedly handsome way.

Anyway, if you're looking for an honest, easy to read comparison of those three Rieslings, here it is - short and sweet (here comes Goldilocks):
Polka Dot was too sweet, Clean Slate was too dry, and Hogue remains my reigning champion.

I find it quite ironic that I prefer the domestic Riesling over the German Rieslings, since Riesling came from Germany originally. However, the Urban Riesling is also German, so I think maybe those two just weren't what I was looking for. Polka Dot was okay, but it lacked the necessary crisp acidity to make it not taste similar to flat ginger ale. Clean Slate had plenty of acidity, but it just did not deliver the fruit accents it touted on the label - between the two I would buy Clean Slate again before Polka Dot, but I sure do love that blue bottle.

And on a completely unrelated note, my fingernails are bright red! (no, I didn't have any Riesling tonight....)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

all we need now is the campfire

Tonight I made BBQ White Beans with "Sausage" & Spinach. First of all, it was marvelously fast to put together. Unless you roast potatoes for a side (like I did), you can make this dinner, start to finish in no more that 20 minutes. This is absolutely the fastest dinner in my repertoire short of grilled cheese sandwiches or veggie burgers. Secondly, I realized about halfway through cooking (aka, about ten minutes in) that this spiffy sounding recipe is a glorified "franks and beans."

Besides how incredibly quickly it was ready to be eaten, one of the best things about this recipe was that it wanted me to use 1 cup of BBQ sauce. Why is that so exciting, you may wonder? Because I have had approximately 1 cup of Pomegranate BBQ sauce that I made for one of my favorite recipes in Vegan With A Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz languishing in my freezer for longer than I'd like and this recipe gave me the opportunity to use it. Truth be told, I actually chose this recipe because it would let me use that up. I'm not a huge fan of BBQ or the accompanying sauce, but I have to say this is the best BBQ sauce ever - how can you lose when two ingredients are liquid smoke and pomegranate molasses?

Anyway, we'll consider tonight's dinner another great success, despite the heat keeping the cat out of the kitchen. He's obviously not going to oblige my wish for a funny anecdote, so I'll just explain his odd behavior (which inspired the blog title) now.

Angst is my cat. He's a huge grey-and-darker-grey tabby who loves spinach and hates summer (and therefore will not cooperate with my cooking schedule). Angst LOVES spinach - I think it's the weirdest thing, but he gets crazy impatient if I don't share with him before I break the spinach (in other words, before I cook it). He sits at my feet and gives me "the eyes" and if I don't pay attention, he will stand up on his hind legs and wrap his "arms" around my waist (he's very tall), squeaking for spinaches. When I give him his piece(s), he gets on his hind feet again so he can grab my wrist with his paws and hold onto it while he eats the spinach right out of my fingers. Every once in a while, I fool him - I don't mean to - he's just kinda stupid sometimes. He sees green leafy things and thinks spinach...but there's arugula (which I discovered he also likes), mint and basil (doesn't like them at all), and bok choy, to name a few.

Enough tangents - here is what our tasty dinner looked like tonight:

Monday, July 27, 2009

tasty presents

I don't know quite how to take this, but every time I have been given a gift recently, it has been a food gift. Are people trying to fatten me up? Do they realize just how important my tastebuds have become in the past few years? Regardless, I will happily accept my gifts.

Tonight's dinner was Pasta Puttanesca. I have another recipe for this, in One-Dish Vegetarian Meals by Robin Robertson, but I think I like Nava's better - it was extremely flavorful without being over-the-top rich. I've noticed that chefs seem to have "go to ingredients" that tend to end up in more than half their recipes. Nava's is sun-dried tomatoes, whereas Robin's is definitely fake ground beef. I didn't actually like ground beef when I DID eat meat, so I'm not one of those people who runs around trying to find meat-like things now that I don't eat meat. I figure, I'm a vegetarian, so I eat....vegetables. Sorry if you were hoping for a more exciting answer. In Robin's defense, though, there are some terrific recipes in One-Dish, such as a delightful Pastitsio for my sweet Greek husband.

Anyway, I don't really have any fun cooking stories - Pasta Puttanesca has been translated as "Streetwalker pasta" because legend has it that the Ladies of the Night/Working Girls created the recipe by throwing together pantry ingredients after a long night's work. I don't know if that's true, but I think it may be the best recipe legend I've ever heard! Much better than family heirloom cookie recipes...but maybe that's because my family doesn't have any.

Back to my gifts. After dinner had settled in our stomachs a little tonight, my beloved went to the freezer and produced a dessert present - a thoroughly frozen DQ Blizzard. That was a sweet way to end a hot, humid Philadelphia day (despite my day spent languishing in a sub-arctic office...I cannot begin to imagine the energy bills for the A/C). Yesterday, my father-in-law came into the city with his wife and met up with my husband for lunch in the Italian Market, home to DiBruno Brothers, a gourmet Italian grocer/butcher/cheese seller. So, when I returned from work (which prevented me from joining my family for this fun day), I was presented with gifts from my father-in-law from DiBruno Bros: Rosemary Foccacia, very fine Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for dipping), and a hunk of sheep's milk cheese. I could drool just thinking of this fine Mediterranean feast. Finally, at work today, a colleague offered me big bunches of mint from his home garden - I did not know it existed, but he has a strain of chocolate mint (yes, it's really an herb - he said they use it to make peppermint patties) as well as spearmint, and he's bringing me both.

So, now my mind is completely focused on constructing a recipe that will allow me to use up the mint before it wilts and dies. The spearmint will have no trouble finding its way into a moroccan-inspired dish, but the chocolate mint will definitely have to be used in a dessert. I don't think I've reached the level of creativity or skill yet where I can figure out how to integrate that flavor into a dinner. Stay tuned - I can smell an adventure looming!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The new thing I love

Polenta. It's so good! Tonight's dinner was Polenta with Black Beans and Spinach. It was so simple to prepare that I thought I was messing up and it comes together ultra-fast! This is a great, hearty, savory meal - it will probably be amazing in the fall, come to think of it.

I popped my polenta cherry by slicing a 24 oz tube into 12 equal rounds, then grilling it on a skillet until golden and crispy. It looked a little bland, so despite the recipe author thinking polenta is fine the way it is (and she may be right!), I sprinkled each side of the polenta with some garlic powder and salt. I think it really added something, but someday I'll probably cook polenta without doing that, just to see what it tastes like unadorned.

While the polenta was sizzling away, I rejuvenated some sun-dried tomatoes (packed dry, no oil) in a cup of warm water, which I then added to the garlic and black beans in my saute pan. After flipping the polenta halfway through cooking, I laid some baby spinach atop the beans and tomatoes and covered the pot to let it wilt.

I'm still impressed with how tasty dinner was. I placed 3 polenta rounds on each plate and topped with the bean mixture. The table looked a bit bare, so I added a nice bowl of mixed Greek olives and Parmesan cheese.

I'm having a lot of first-time-I-cooked-with-that moments this week. I'm thrilled that they aren't colossal failures!

On a side note, I have no fun stories to tell of Angst begging for spinach tonight, since he was hiding in the bathroom from the thunder. I have another spinach recipe coming up later in the week, though, so hopefully I'll have my little kitchen helper then!

if you want to make this super-easy recipe, run out to your nearest bookstore and grab Vegan Express by Nava Atlas - you won't be sorry!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

first time's the charm

I am absolutely elated right now. Tonight I made Mandarin Tofu with Peppers and Broccoli. It was actually much easier than I thought it would be and once the prep ended and the cooking began, it went pretty quickly. Additionally, it was beautiful, with its colorful array of red, orange, yellow, and green on a bed of snow white jasmine rice, topped with crispy, browned squares of tasty tofu. I am pleased beyond words (okay, not quite, obviously) with how this came out. Mister was happy with it as well - throughout the cooking time, he repeatedly commented on how good it smelled and when I told him to stay out of the kitchen until I put dinner on the table, he kept asking if he could look yet. It was like a road trip with a child ("are we there yet?").

The core of my happiness right now is pride, with a little sprinkling of back-patting over top. This is the first recipe I've made that is completely mine, start to finish! Like I said, it comes together easily and quickly (after the prep), so if you feel like giving it a try, the recipe will follow the picture. All I ask is that you let me know how it turned out for you!

Mandarin Tofu with Peppers and Broccoli
serves 4

the juice/syrup from a 24 oz jar of mandarin oranges
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
14 oz package of firm tofu, frozen, thawed, and squeezed of excess water
1 large red bell pepper
1 large yellow bell pepper
8 oz fresh/frozen broccoli
4-6 cloves of garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp peanut oil
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
3/4 cup jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups water

Mix together the marinade ingredients in a wide, shallow container (with a lid, preferably). After squeezing out the excess water from the tofu, cut it in half lengthwise, then slice 8 times crosswise, for a total of 16 squares of tofu. Place in marinade, cover the container and shake gently to ensure all tofu has been covered with marinade. Place in refrigerator to marinate for one hour.

Meanwhile, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Add rice and lower heat to the lowest possible simmer. Simmer 20-25 minutes, or until rice is tender and all water is absorbed.

While rice is cooking, chop up peppers and broccoli. Once tofu has marinated for one hour, spray a skillet or griddle with nonstick cooking spray and heat on medium high. Place tofu on skillet in a single layer and allow to sear, undisturbed, for five minutes.

Heat peanut and sesame oils in a saute pan or wok on medium heat. Add garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add peppers and broccoli and stir well. Cook 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once tofu is browned and crispy on one side, flip with a spatula and baste with leftover marinade. Let tofu continue cooking for 5 more minutes.

When vegetables are tender but still brightly colored, remove pan from heat and stir in mandarin oranges.

To serve, lay a bed of rice of each plate. Place a layer of the vegetable mixture on the rice and top each serving with 4 tofu squares.

Friday, July 24, 2009

miso virgin

So dinner tonight was the Miso-Ginger Red Beans and Broccoli, which marked the first time I have cooked with miso. The recipe called for "dark miso," so I figured there was some little package waiting for me in a natural food market that would be labeled as such. How wrong I was played out through three different grocery stores and an adventure with a helpful stockboy.

First of all, for anyone who has never used miso, it is not shelf stable. I probably could have found it at Whole Foods if I had bothered to ask someone who would have known to look in the refrigerator, thus saving the 2nd and 3rd store forages. I don't know why (probably because every recipe I've ever seen using miso instructs you to dissolve it in water) but I figured it was a dry powder or boullion. I looked near the spices, I looked at various sections of international foods, and could not find it. Finally, a helpful (if clueless) young man stocking shelves at a small hippie store near my home asked if I needed help and I explained my plight. He took me to the refrigerator and showed me the vast array of misos (smudgy stuff confined to tubs and jars) then went off to find someone who would know what makes miso "dark." We never did figure that out, but I left with some dark brown sludge in a take-away container and turned it into tonight's dinner.

I became concerned while cooking, because it didn't smell how I expected it to smell. Once I added the miso "gravy" it was extremely pungent and a little closer, but not quite there. To be blunt, I was a little worried dinner was going to be a failure, and wouldn't even tell my husband what I was making (although, I like to surprise him, so I don't normally tell him anyway, actually). We sat down to eat and I was astonished - it was SO good. It was so good that Mister took a second helping and Angst thought he wanted some, too! It wasn't the most attractive thing I have ever made, but the contrast of the bright green broccoli against the tiny, burgundy Aduki beans I used (first time for them, too) was nice. The miso gravy dulled the colors a little, but what can you do?

stretching my wings

I love cookbooks. I have so many that I'm starting to run out of places to put them, so I have the Favorites shelf (near the kitchen) and the I-may-look-once-in-a-while shelf (down the hall). I just got three new cookbooks last weekend, and I have devoted this week's dinner menus to a review of the first one: Vegan Express by Nava Atlas.

When I saw it in the bookstore, I thought it had some unique recipes and liked the flavors I saw when I flipped through. Today, I sat down with a delightful cup of chocolate caramel coffee and paged through a little more carefully, looking for this week's dinner. Chapter 1 is "Speedy, Savory Soups," which really didn't strike me as appealing at the end of July, but will surely lead to another great discovery week in October. Chapter 2 focuses on vegan proteins - tofu, seitan, and tempeh. There were some fun recipes, but I already had a tofu recipe on the menu (more on that later) and my husband is allergic to tempeh. In Chapter 3, "Glorious Grains and Bountiful Beans," I hit gold.

When I was a kid, my father insisted on singing the bean song ("beans, bean, the magical fruit; the more you eat, the more you toot") every time my poor mother included beans in our dinner, so it has taken me nearly a decade of cooking for myself to open up to the many amazing bean dishes out there. I love grains, though, and the combination of the two is texturally amazing (and provides a complete protein). I harvested 4 recipes before moving on to Chapter 4 - pasta. Pasta is way overdone in vegetarian cooking, or at least in non-veg. cooking for vegetarians, so I didn't want to spend a lot of time in that chapter. Fortunately, I didn't have to! I found the final recipe for my week of dinners fairly quickly and closed the book. There are still 5 chapters, but I will provide a second review when I get through the whole book. I was really just on a quest for my grocery list today.

A few notes, though, on the way the cookbook is set up. In addition to quick, easy-to-make recipes, in which the most exotic, hard-to-find ingredient I've seen so far is lemongrass, the author includes some very helpful side notes for each recipe. This is the set-up of each page:
Recipe (with intro); nutritional info per serving, and *drum roll* menu suggestions! I love when people suggest accompaniments to the main course, because most of the time, I barely have time to figure out the entree, much less a side dish, appetizer, or dessert! The most creative accompaniment I've been able to come up with unaided was when I sliced a Granny Smith apple in a thin fan, with a branch of green grapes and some kalamata olives.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my dinner menu for this week - I will let you know how it turns out. All recipes below can be found in the aforementioned cookbook, except the Mandarin Tofu and Peppers, to which I will devote another blog on another day. Enjoy!

  1. Mandarin Tofu & Peppers
  2. Curried Chickpeas with Chutney Bulghur
  3. Polenta with Black Beans & Spinach
  4. BBQ-Flavored White Beans with Sausage & Spinach
  5. Miso-Ginger Red Beans with Broccoli
  6. Pasta Puttanesca