Friday, August 28, 2009

back in black

See? The title's funny because I more or less always wear black.

Anyway...I can't believe I haven't blogged since Tuesday - it's been a very busy and crazy week...I've had time to make and photograph food, but no time to tell stories about it.

Well, that changes now. I'm off from work today, so I can catch you up. Grab a (large) cup of coffee or tea and maybe a small snack and get comfy - this might take a while. I'm not going to go in chronological order, necessarily, but there will be order. First, the bar crawl...

On Wednesday, I had my Larabar Banana Bread Bar, and it was amazing. I am in love. From my taste-testing so far, if someone told me I could eat only one (Lara)bar for the rest of my life, this would be the one.
First of all, I have to admit, the packaging made me happy. Yes, I wear black all the time, but red is my favorite color and yellow just makes me happy (it reminds me of my sister).
It has 3 ingredients: almonds, dates, and unsweetened bananas. That's awesome in my world, and it made for a very intense bar - it was very banana-y but the nuts gave it this fabulous texture - it wasn't chewy the way a Snickers bar would be chewy, but rather the way a good bagel would be.
My only objection to this otherwise perfect bar is that I wish it were lower in calories: 220 to be exact, of which 100 come from the 11g fat in the bar (from the almonds). I understand it's good fat; I'm more focused on the 220 calories - it seems a little high for a snack bar, but there isn't enough substance for it to be a "meal replacement" bar. We'll put it on the Sometimes Foods list.

After work on Wednesday, I had to pick up a few items before heading home and I saw three boxes of Soyjoy bars. I've seen advertisements for these odd little bars in some magazines and they are so off-the-wall, it makes me curious. That's probably the point. At any rate, it worked! My choices were Strawberry, Apple Walnut, and Berry - I thought Apple Walnut was probably the safest bet.

I cracked this baby open at work on Thursday and was immediately taken aback by two things: it was teeny-tiny and so thoroughly baked it almost looked burnt. I wondered if I had purchased a biscotti instead of a bar and pondered my coffee for a moment before just biting off a reasonable chunk. I think it gave me TMJ because my jaw was making some horrible noises while I tried to chew it. The pieces of dried fruit were more like licorice you let sit out too long, and there was way too much flour/batter going on. I nearly threw it in my trashcan after that first bite, but I have a much bigger issue with throwing food away than I do with the possibility of that food disconnecting my lower jaw from my skull, so I finished it, hoping for a similar ending as the Jocalat story. No go, but fortunately, it only took me three more jaw-cracking bites to finish this itty bitty bar.

But hold onto your hats - I do have some positive things to say about the bar (but I still do not EVER plan to put one in my mouth again). One bar has only 140 calories, which makes it a more appropriately portioned snack bar in my world. The truly astounding thing, though, is that it might have been the most effective bar yet at helping me get through to my lunch break. I still won't get it again, especially due to the positively wretched list of ingredients that I should have checked before I bought it but I didn't because I was just so stupidly curious about the hype: Whole Soybean Powder, Raisin, Butter (from milk), Sugar, Walnut, Eggs, Dried Apple, Maltodextrin (natural fiber source), Dried Pineapple, Salt, Parmesan Cheese (from skim milk), Natural Flavors.
Butter? Really? And of course, my favorite: Natural Flavors. This is obviously not a vegan bar, but what really blew my mind was that in the Apple Walnut bar, they had the need to include Parmesan Cheese??? Color me boggled.

Alright, enough bitching about bars. I got a few more when I went food shopping today, so my review is far from complete. We still have the Coconut Cream Larabar and the Nectar bar. Today I added:
Apple Pie Larabar
Chocolate Coffee Jocalat bar
Cinnamon Roll Larabar
I could drool just looking at those names. Let's move on!

On No-Cook Wednesday (and thank heavens - I was in no mood), I came home and reheated the single serving left from the Farro Pasta with Sunshine Sauce and after I had gracefully dumped it into a pretty bowl (my days of eating right from the pot are over), I remembered that I had never really gotten a good picture of it when I made it originally. So here you go:
Still not great, but better than the way it looked hanging out at the bottom of the pot in which it was born.

Finally, last night I made Chickpea Stew with Fried Polenta from my Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook. It was everything it promised to be. It was a near-existential experience, because what I imagined it would taste like was exactly what it DID taste like. I was craving something comforting - I still can't find the words to describe how much garbage this week dumped on me - and when I looked at the recipe, I knew this was what would do it. It was hearty and rich, and as Mister pointed out, much more than met the eye. Not that it isn't nice to look at, but there is a lot of good, savory flavor and a very robust texture hiding in the stew. The chunks of fried polenta were the perfect final touch, even if I did manage to accidentally throw two chunks on the floor instead of into the pot. I think I over-processed the saucy part of the stew as well, because when I looked more closely at the recipe, it seemed to indicate a chunkier stew.
A couple of notes about some background items in ^this^ happy still life: Aside from my unfortunate experience with the Soyjoy bar, I have been almost accidentally vegan the past few weeks. It all started with that exciting journey through Vegan Express (which I will reprise briefly in this week's menu) and kept going. I realized that almost all of the recipes I have created have been vegan and that when I use a recipe from my cookbooks, I have been reaching for my vegan cookbooks more. The exceptions are that I do normally have yogurt and berries for breakfast and a couple of times I have finished the "broken" cereal Mister won't eat and have (against my own better taste) used his milk out of sheer morning laziness. I say all of this to lead up to this: The little bowl of parmesan cheese you see was for Mister. It actually didn't even occur to me to use it, and I think that is because of the primarily vegan way I've been eating lately.
The second note is about the wine: it's Cavit Pinot Noir and I would like to take an opportunity to give it a little review. It's the most gorgeous shade of red I've seen in ages! That's where the good part stops. I hate this wine - I'm not going to beat around the bush. I bought the little 4-pack bottles because I don't like what happens to a bottle of red wine if it sits open more than a few hours and I'm not enough of a lush to finish a bottle alone (Mister doesn't drink). I tried the little bottles in 4 different contexts because I couldn't believe how much it sucked - I like Cavit Cabernet, so I couldn't grasp that the Pinot Noir could be this bad. The final bottle tried really hard to work with last night's dinner...but like all the others, I got 2 sips in before I just couldn't convince myself to drink more.
I am at least somewhat convinced, though, that this would be a good choice to accompany filet mignon (for those of you who eat it) because it has the same woody, buttery taste to it as Beringer Cabernet, which is excellent with filet mignon (or was 10 years ago). This wine cannot be consumed by just can't. It has to go with something, and I have come to the conclusion that vegetarians don't eat anything that it complements.

This is the longest post ever. I'm almost done, so thanks for sticking with me if you're still there. Is your coffee gone yet? I can wait for you to refill if you need to. Seriously, though, all that is left is the new menu and a brief explanation of why it, too, is longer than usual.

1. Five-Spice Vegetables and Tofu on Coffee Rice
2. Peppered Pasta
3. Curried Tofu with Mixed Baby Greens
4. Minty Moroccan Mishmash
5. Red Rice and Beans
6. Mediterranean Risotto
7. BBQ Pomegranate Tofu on Coconut Rice (from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa)
8. BBQ-Flavored White Beans with Sausage and Spinach (from Vegan Express by Nava Atlas)

#1 is a repeat from last week's menu and this menu is 8 items long because of a recent change to my work schedule, resulting in alternating long and shorter weeks. I had forgotten that last week was shorter, so I ran over by one recipe which should start this "week." This coming week is longer, so I had to plan my menu to run from Tonight until next Saturday, because next Sunday is the next opportunity I will have to do serious food shopping. I'm giving Red Rice and Beans another try - I did a little troubleshooting and feel pretty confident I can cut the cooking time in half and actually have fully cooked rice this time! Similarly, I have made a few changes to the Mediterranean Risotto which I would like to try out (one is using Arborio rice to make a real risotto, thereby not making Mister eat "squishy wheat"). To be completely honest, when I decided to make Isa's Pomegranate Tofu (one of my all-time favorite recipes), I immediately thought to reprise Nava's "beans and franks" so I could use up the leftover BBQ sauce. Plus it's tasty and ultra-fast to make.

Despite your inevitable protests, I will return later to post about tonight's dinner!

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