Monday, September 28, 2009

vegan version fusion

Today I discovered a glimmer of courage I had not previously observed in my mother - she fed my father tofu! I didn't believe she'd do it and she proved me wrong and I just wish I could have been there to see the faces my "if it's not meat, it's not food" father made. She called me last week to ask if she could find tofu in a "normal" grocery store and where to find garam masala and I so didn't believe she would really feed my meat-and-potatoes father the Punjabi Peppers & Tofu but she did! Well done, mom.

Last night I made my Pomegranate Saute on Cinnamon Bulghur again. I guess it's a good thing when you like your own recipes enough to reprise them? It didn't look any different from the first time, so if you want to see what it looks like or get the recipe, look here. I did substitute pineapple juice for the apple juice in the recipe because I have better things to do with my time than chase down a small-serving bottle of apple juice. It didn't really taste any different, though I did need to add a little bit of salt to counteract the sweetness.

Tonight, however, I went out on a limb... it creaked a little, but it didn't break and I'm not sure I'll push my luck with this one, though I like the idea enough to try to modify it further in the future (I dare you to say that 5 times fast - further in the future...). I made Fusion Enchiladas from Clean Eating Magazine. I made a couple of substitutions and omissions, since the recipe in the magazine may contain quality ingredients, but one of them used to run around on 4 legs and we're not down with that. Anyway, I'm not going to give you the recipe, but I'll let you know about some of the fun bits of making it.

Okay, okay...I'll give you the recipe. By the way, if you aren't into magazines but still want to learn about the tenets of clean eating, Tosca Reno has published The Eat Clean Diet as a cookbook full of other helpful tidbits.

Fusion Enchiladas from Clean Eating, Sept/Oct 2009
"REFRIED" EDAMAME (pronounced eh-dah-MAH-may)
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, smashed (I pressed 4)
1 cup frozen shelled edamame beans
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp fresh lime juice (I just squeezed a whole lime)
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 tsp olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
8 oz sirloin beef, thinly sliced*
1 cup corn kernels
1 medium red bell pepper, finely diced
2 cups baby spinach (I just used a whole 5 oz bag)
1 1/2 cups all-natural, low-sodium tomato sauce, divided (I used a 14.5 oz can of tomato sauce - I wouldn't do that again - not enough sauce and not enough flavor)
Sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
8 small whole wheat flour tortillas (about 6-8" in diameter) (I used 6 medium sized)
1/2 cup low-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded (omitted)

*I used Amy's All American veggie burgers. I cooked 3 burgers for 2 minutes in the microwave (sacrilege) then cut them into strips to saute in step three. It really didn't go as I had planned and in the future, I will either use seitan like I thought I would originally or I will use a different veggie patty - these just didn't hold together very well.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Prepare "refried" edamame: Bring 2 cups water to a boil over high heat. Add onion, garlic, and edamame, bring back to a boil and cook for 4 minutes. Drain onion-bean mixture, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Pour bean mixture and reserved liquid into a food processor and add cumin, chili powder and lime juice. Puree until almost smooth and season with salt and pepper. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.
Prepare "beef" filling: In a small bowl, combine 1/2 tsp oil, garlic and cumin. Add beef and mix well to season.
In a nonstick saute pan, heat remaining 1 tsp oil over medium-high heat. Add beef and saute for about 1 minute, until lightly browned. Add corn, red pepper, and spinach, and mix well to combine. Add 1/4 cup tomato sauce and cook for 1-2 minutes, until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9x13" baking dish and set aside.
Spread tortillas out in a single layer on a flat work surface. Scoop 2-3 Tbsp edamame filling and spread in the center of each tortilla. Top with 2-3 tbsp "beef" mixture and roll tightly. Place enchiladas seam-side down on top of tomato sauce in baking dish. Cover with remaining tomato sauce, top with cheese (if using) and place dish in oven. Bake enchiladas until hot throughout and cheese is melted, about 8 minutes.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

cupcakes for them, soup for me!

I've found my taste-testers for future cupcake/muffin recipes - I work with them on Saturdays. I finally made my "nostalgic" cupcakes today and to say they were a smashing success seems to be an understatement (to my great delight). One of the boys just stood over the box of cupcakes for about 2-3 minutes, staring in awe until one of the other guys asked him if he was going to stare at them all day or was he going to eat one? When he did, he emerged from the office he had hidden in (to better enjoy his treat in private) and clapped for me and my cupcakes. The cupcakes were a total hit and requests for more flowed freely.
Peanut Butter & Jelly Cupcakes (vegan)
yields 12 cupcakes
2 cups whole wheat flour, lightly spooned and leveled
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 cup soymilk
1 banana
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup blackberry preserves
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In a food processor/blender, combine banana, sugar, soymilk, peanut butter, and salt. Process until completely smooth, then pour into dry ingredients. Stir until completely incorporated, but don't over-mix. Scoop into lined cupcake pan. Bake about 15 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of a centrally located cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pan 5-10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the jelly glaze: In a small saucepan, bring the blackberry preserves, water, and cornstarch to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 4-6 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool completely in a cereal/rice bowl.
To ice the cupcakes: take each cooled cupcake by the paper wrapping and dip into the glaze upside-down. Twist to be sure the entire top of the cupcake is glazed. You could probably spread the glaze on with a knife or spatula, but that wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

I am listening to the happy sound of cars sloshing through puddles below my window. It was a beautiful sunny day, with the slightest nip in the air, but it has turned into a rainy and downright chilly evening. I love this time of year, truly. I couldn't think of a better night for Potato Corn Chowder from The Accidental Vegan. We were not disappointed - this is one seriously thick soup (thank you, Mr. Immersion Blender), full of potatoey goodness and the sweetness of corn. I am a sucker for a good, creamy, hearty potato soup and this one fit the bill with no help from the dairy industry! It smelled fantastic while it simmered for 30 minutes (this is a great dinner for nights when you can't or don't want to constantly attend to the cooking dinner). I think Devra said it would yield 6 servings, and it did - we each had three and I don't care if I get fat right now. Maybe tomorrow, but not right now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

entertaining an army

I've made a progressive sequence of meals over the past few days. On Tuesday night I made Punjabi Peppers and Tofu so that we wouldn't have any leftovers (and it worked brilliantly). On No-Cook-Wednesday, I just heated up what was left of the corn bisque I made earlier in the week and threw in some leftover rice to calm the flavor of the nutmeg. I continue to be perplexed by how much heat that sprinkling added and I cannot find information anywhere on why nutmeg would make soup bite me.

Last night I made Vegetable Etoufee (pronounced eh-too-FAY) from One Dish Vegetarian Meals by Robin Robertson. Etoufee is french for "smothered" which refers to the thick tomato-based roux in which the vegetables simmer. This dish is apparently standard Cajun fare, although it normally includes shrimp or crayfish (straight out of the Louisiana bayous?).
Yesterday was a hungry day. Mister thinks it's because we don't eat a normal dinner on Wednesdays, but I don't think that explains all of the other Thursdays that weren't hungry days. I had a bigger breakfast than usual and thought to myself, "surely, this will hold me through training until I can have a snack." I had a meeting right when I got to work and went from there directly into my training class. I got about an hour into the training and realized I was so hungry that I felt weak and wasn't sure I was making sense. Miraculously, I finished the module I was teaching and then unloaded my trainees on the more seasoned agents they would be shadowing until lunch time. I immediately ate my gnu bar (more on that later) and to my profound disappointment discovered that I actually felt hungrier than I did before I ate it! I thought, "oh, my body just needs a minute to realize I ate something," but about 5 minutes later I was still so hungry I was becoming nauseated and shaky. Against my better judgment, I went to the cafeteria and bought an iced tea, a banana, and a "home-made" granola bar. After wolfing down the banana and granola bar, I finally felt better and made it through the next couple of hours until lunch. I happily slurped up my big bowl of soup and was good to go for a little longer. About halfway home, though, I realized I was starving again. I'm pretty good about recognizing my body's symptoms and it usually gives me a little more warning before going into full-on we're-never-going-to-eat-again panic mode, but when I say I was starving I was seriously hungrier than I've been in a long time. In fact, I couldn't even think about cooking dinner until I had eaten a piece of bread with my Dark Chocolate Dreams PB on it. The point I'm trying to make is this: I made Vegetable Etoufee because it was the fastest-cooking meal on my menu.

On to the next! Although we do have a decent amount of last night's dinner to make into upcoming days' lunches (probably 2), the sheer volume of tonight's meal amazed even me. At least I know what I can make the next time I have to feed an army (or my husband's side of the family). Tonight I made the imaginatively named Penne Pasta with Fresh Veggies from The Vegan Table. The yield was even huger than Isa's Seitanic Jambalaya - see for yourself!

That's the biggest pot I have and the food comes up to the handles! I got this recipe from the section of Colleen's book she intends for dinners with 4-6 people. I think she's assuming they will all have seconds (maybe thirds) and not eat any of the clever side dishes or appetizers also on the menu/table. I had 2 of those servings and Mister had 4 (he must have really liked it!) and we still had about 3.5 qts of leftovers. I got an idea of how much bigger this dish was than I thought it would be when I was prepping the vegetables and they filled a 2.5 qt bowl to the top.

Anyway, it was very tasty - the penne was only one ingredient, equal with the rest due to their abundance. This will probably be a good dish to bring to family dinners, potlucks, and any USO shows I do when I'm famous.

I constructed and shopped for this week's menu today - it was a gorgeous day for walking around my neighborhood.

1. Fusion Enchiladas from Clean Eating Magazine. This magazine is awesome, though admittedly "out there" sometimes. The basic principle is to fuel your body well by eating minimally processed, whole foods. I can dig. This recipe actually calls for beef sirloin, but I have some tricks up my sleeve.

2. Two-Bean Soup with Kale, with Cheese-Tomato Toasts
from Cooking Light Magazine. I don't have anything witty to say about this yet.

3. Pomegranate Saute on Cinnamon Bulghur - it's time to use up those last 5 peanuts. I might give it a tropical twist with some pineapple juice this time around, if I don't feel like hunting down apple juice. It's harder than it sounds!

4. Five-Spice Vegetables & Tofu with Green Tea Rice - and this time, if I actually use the 5-Spice powder instead of ground cloves, I'll actually post the recipe!

5. Brazilian Black Bean Stew from Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook. There's a story here, too. First of all, I think it's awesome that this soup recipe calls for chunks of mango. Second of all, mangos appear to be at the peak of ripeness right now. Finally, a friend of mine actually took a picture on his vacation with his wife that made me crave this soup. You know those little cards they stick up on posts next to soup tureens to let you know what kind of soup is inside and what's in the soup? He saw a Vegan Black Bean Soup card and thought it would be funny to send me a picture, so I thought, "I haven't made that incredible (and beautiful) black bean stew in a while..." Isn't that a heartwarming story?

I expect to post more frequently (really???) in October. I'm going to be taking part in Vegan Month of Food III, aka VeganMoFo 2009. I'm also considering going vegan for the month as an experiment, and as part of the detox effort I mentioned earlier. I guess that means I'll have to get the soup with cheese toasts out of the way before Thursday, as well as my cupcakes.
By the way - I am completely unimpressed with Gnu Food bars. They had them at the register at Whole Foods, so I figured I'd give them a try. Well, I've tried three and I didn't like any of them.
1. they don't taste very good
2. they have a gritty texture and hard bits that stick between my chewing teeth. I don't appreciate that.
3. they're twice as expensive as any of the bars I do like (PS I got another box of Nectar Cacao bars today)
4. not only do they not satisfy my hunger, they seem to enhance it!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chai is the Hindi word for Tea

That's my fun fact for the evening - because it cracks me up! From now on, every time I hear someone say "Chai Tea" I'm going to laugh inside my head. I wanted to share that so you can laugh inside your head, too, or if we're together we can laugh out loud and give the person who said "chai tea" a complex.

I saw that in a little color patch in The Vegan Table, which is funny since dinner came from a different cookbook. I can't remember why I had that one open, but let me move on. Dinner tonight came from La Dolce Vegan and it's one of my favorite recipes. It is extremely simple to make, comes together quickly, smells fabulous, and tastes even better. I think this dish was the first time Mister realized he could actually like tofu.

*Gasp* A vegetarian who doesn't like tofu??? It happens.

Anyway, I'll share the recipe at the end of this post because it doesn't actually belong to the author so I don't feel bad reposting it. Hopefully, too, it will encourage you to buy this wonderful book. There are three:
How It All Vegan
The Garden of Vegan
La Dolce Vegan
<-- my favorite

I actually stumbled upon Sarah Kramer and her BFF Tanya Barnard and their amazing trilogy of cookbooks as the result of my wonderful mother trying to accommodate my crazy new lifestyle and make a vegan recipe for some holiday dinner (Christmas, I think), but it didn't quite work out for her, so she gave me the cookbook (HiaV). It had some of the best soup recipes in my collection so it won a fast place in my heart and I got the other two over the years.

Anyway, today I had my Chocolate Cherry Jocalat bar, finally.
I think my favorite thing about this bar is that the cocoa is Fair Trade Certified, which is important to me. To be honest, much like the Chocolate Mint Jocalat bar, the first bite was absolutely horrific. However, considering how well the Mint bar worked out by halfway through, I gave this one another chance and had the same result. Dried cherries are a little more tart than I would like, and these were unsweetened (unlike my craisinets), but it gave a good finish to the bar and I would probably get this one again...but it will never stand up to my Nectar cacao bars.

Now, as promised, I'll share the recipe for tonight's delightful dinner. I love this recipe so much! I chose it because we don't have any more room in the fridge for leftovers and there are never leftovers when I make this. That's another "favorite" thing about this cookbook - Sarah is just cooking for herself and her husband, so her recipes are usually the right size for me and my husband! The recipe was submitted to Sarah from Inder and Vandna Bedi from
Punjabi Peppers & Tofu
brown rice (or grain of your choice), enough for two people*
1/2 lb firm tofu, cubed**
1 small onion, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp hot chili powder
1 large tomato, finely chopped

In a medium pot, cook the rice accordingly. While rice is cooking, in a wok or large saucepan on medium-high heat, saute the tofu and onions in oil until onions are translucent and tofu starts to brown. Add the green and red peppers, salt, chili powder, garam masala, and tomatoes. Reduce heat and cover with lid. Simmer for 4-6 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Serve over rice. Makes 2 large or 4 small servings.

* I used 3/4 cup brown rice in 1.5 cups water.
** I used a whole 14 oz container of tofu. I have no idea how much a 1/2 lb would be and I don't really care - the point was not to have leftovers, so I didn't want whatever was left of the tofu after I skillfully carved away exactly half a pound to sit in some far corner of my fridge awaiting the opportunity to become a science project.

By the way, I don't know what "tea" is in Punjabi and Google won't help me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

pepper steak and chocolate covered antioxidants

Let's go in reverse, shall we? I am just finishing my very first bag of these guys:
I love Nestle. Regardless of the 30-year-old formula debacle, Nestle still insists on trying to convince consumers that chocolate-covered fruit is good for you (and not just less bad for you than, say, Mike 'n' Ikes). Mister has a bad habit of buying candy from an indie convenience store up the street from our home...sometimes he takes me with him and sometimes I cave in...such was the case yesterday when we were out and about. I saw that Nestle wasn't content to only cover raisins with chocolate and I was kind of curious how chocolate-covered dried cranberries would taste, so I got a bag. Besides, it was just a 100 calorie bag. By the way - they're pretty good. A little sweeter than I'd like, and like most dried fruit, they stick in your teeth, but I would get them again if the mood struck. I was, however, amused as heck to turn over the bag to examine the ingredients list (not too many, actually) and see:

Dried cranberries are one of nature's best sources of fruit

That may be true, but there's this ridiculous thought poking me in the back of the head that somehow sweetening them with sugar and oil and then smothering them in milk chocolate probably counteracts any nutritional benefit they provide.

In order to be sure I covered my fruit servings, though, I did have that Cranberry, Apricot & Almond Nectar bar today. The apricot flavor really stood out in this bar, but it was just a little too sweet and kind of tough. I don't know if they're all like that when they "age" but I think it was actually the Apricot holding it together with leathery determination. Final Answer? Not worth hording.Finally, for dinner tonight I made Seitan Pepper Steak from The Accidental Vegan by Devra Gartenstein. I also made some brown rice because I felt like we needed a base and I didn't have confidence that the recipe would yield as much as it did. It turned out to provide roughly 5-6 servings and the rice was really unnecessary. I had a little, but I saved some to add a little more chunkiness to the corn soup I plan to reheat on Wednesday for dinner. It was very good, though the seitan was a little dry or tough or something. I think it would have been nicer to braise the seitan in something before adding it to the peppers. By the way - I don't know how long it takes you to thinly slice 4 large bell peppers, but make sure you are willing to make that time investment before you try this recipe. I think it actually took less time to cook the peppers than it did to slice them, but it gave me an opportunity to tell Mister about my day. It seems easiest to talk about work when I have a sharp knife in my hand...

I've been eating a lot of "crap" lately (not the dinner posted here, though) and I'm torn between two opposites: a really big (and seemingly growing) part of me really wants to detox and affect a kind of fast from all the sweets and various other garbage I've been eating while telling myself it's okay to indulge once in a while since I normally eat good, healthy food. Unfortunately, my "once in a whiles" are getting closer together... then there's the part of me that is painfully/blissfully aware that I haven't made my other recipe for cupcakes yet and I've gathered all the necessary ingredients to make them this week. So I'm thinking October will be a good month to renew my cleaner eating habits and try to detox myself...just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

soup's on!

Having had the last of the lentil soup for lunch today, I came to the conclusion that if I was playing one of those silly games where people ask you questions like, "if you could only eat one soup for the rest of your life, what would it be?" my answer would be Isa's Amazing Lentil Soup. When I made it originally and posted about it, I included an excerpt from Veganomicon in which Isa writes that you'll never need another lentil soup recipe. I would like to amend her statement: you will never need another soup recipe. Period. I have eaten that soup on three occasions over the past week and every time I put the spoon in my mouth I am astonished anew by how delicious it is.

So, can anyone tell me why I pushed my luck and made another soup tonight? Actually, the answer to that is, "so I could take the menu off the freezer door and post the new one," since that was the last recipe on last week's menu. That does not explain, however, why there is another soup on the new menu. I digress - the point is, tonight I made Double Pea Soup with Roasted Red Peppers from Veganomicon. It was very good, made with split peas and "regular" peas, and very colorful from the green peas, orange carrots, and red peppers.
Also, today I did indeed return to Whole Foods to clear out their supply of my precious Nectar bars. See, it's funny - I go through snack phases and I'm either all about the bars or I absolutely want nothing to do with them. I had been on a raw rage due to a very pre-packaged and carbolicious winter, so I wouldn't even entertain the notion of a snack other than an apple, pear, cup of strawberries, you get the picture: Fruit in all it's untouched glory. And I'm sure that in the middle of February when all fruit is nasty and most of it has been trucked/flown in from other parts of the WORLD (not even country), I will crave fresh fruit like no one's business. At the moment, however, I am all about the bars.

I babbled about all of that just now because I think it's funny how I wouldn't have cared one whit about Clif discontinuing the Nectar line a few months ago and now I regard it as an apocalyptic tragedy. Here is my shrine to Nectar:
I have never actually had the lone Cranberry, Apricot, Almond Nectar bar in the middle, but when I went to Whole Foods, they had the 4 Cacao bars I snatched up, the 3.5 boxes of Lemon Vanilla Cashew of which I took 2, about 6 boxes of Cherry Pomegranate, and then these bars. I believe there are probably 6 boxes of what sounds like a teeth-achingly sweet bar for good reason, so I thought I'd see if the Cran-Apri-Almond bars were worth hording.

Finally, as if Fate had aligned certain factors to soften the trauma of Nectar's slow disappearance, Chocolate Covered Katie is hosting an Amazing Grass Chocolate SuperFood bars Giveaway! I entered, of course, and if you're interested in possibly trying some of these bars for free, just follow the link and read about the contest! While you're over there, check out the rest of her blog - it's primarily her fault I even remembered my love for the convenience of getting two fruit servings in a neatly wrapped bar. She focuses primarily on breakfast and dessert as far as I can tell, so she has some absolutely incredible ideas for that all-important first meal of the day.

harvesting the nectar before it's gone

It was a gorgeous almost-autumn day today. The temperature was hovering in the low 70s, the sun was out but there was a nice breeze blowing... I wandered down to the Italian Market to try (again) to get either Beluga lentils or more French lentils and they were out of both. How disappointing, but at least I got to take a walk. I bought bunches of vegetables, including 9 different bell peppers - it's going to be a pepper-heavy menu this week, but it seems there's a bumper crop, so it works out.

I also got more bananas which may or may not get to stay whole for more than a day... last time, I was just a day late in eating them all up and the fruit flies won that round. The little buggers only live about two days, but for those two days, they are annoying as hell. Chocolate Covered Katie has a recipe for banana butter which I'm considering, since I still haven't settled into an oatmeal routine. Maybe I won't - I could just spend the fall and winter experimenting, but I have learned several times over that I really just don't like chocolate oatmeal. That probably will not stop me from trying again, though.

Anyway, tonight's dinner was Stewed Lentils with Soy Sausage and Fingerling Fries, both from Vegan Express by Nava Atlas. It was not a fast meal, but that is owed to two factors:
1. I don't believe in canned lentils. They just seem gross.
2. My stove got crippled somewhere between reheating that amazing lentil soup we had earlier this week for lunch and making dinner tonight and all that came out of the burner was the wretched smell they put in natural gas to prevent you from killing yourself accidentally. So, down a front burner and too short to reach the back burners for something requiring frequent attention, it took a little longer because I had to trade off.

The stewed lentils looked kind of gross, but it tasted good and that's really what matters. The fries were both attractive and tasty, though a little bland because I'm very conservative with the salt (you can always add more, but you can't take it away, right?).
I stand corrected, now that I've made a whole bunch of recipes from Vegan Express - Nava has two standard ingredients: sun-dried tomatoes and Tofurky sausage. It kind of works out, though, because Mister loves Tofurky everything and I have thus far been unable to give him a Tofurky for a holiday feast. Someday...when our home is big enough for guests...

I thought I had finished my food shopping today, but it turns out I did forget to pick one thing up at Whole Foods. I'm glad I have to go back because when I was looking at some of the blogs I follow today, I found that my absolute favorite fruit and nut bars are being discontinued! So, I'm planning to march my butt back to Whole Foods tomorrow and buy every Lemon Vanilla Cashew Nectar bar and Dark Chocolate Walnut Nectar bar they have. It's ironic - after all my bar testing, those remained my favorites for many reasons.

In any case, here is the menu for this coming week. I still have one more Isa soup I'm making tomorrow night, though, from last week's menu.

1. Potato Corn Chowder (from Accidental Vegan by Devra Gartenstein)
2. Seitan Pepper Steak (also Accidental Vegan - this was one of the recipes that made me buy the book)
3. Vegetable Etoufee (from One-Dish Vegetarian Meals by Robin Robertson - this is another old standard that I make almost every time I flip through this cookbook)
4. Punjabi Peppers and Tofu (from La Dolce Vegan by Sarah Kramer, the crazy Canadian who introduced me to the wondrous world of vegan cooking, as well as the magical spice medley called Garam Masala)
5. Penne Pasta with Fresh Veggies (from The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau) That has to be the most unimaginative name I've ever seen for a recipe, but we'll forgive her because she comes up with clever-cute names for her full menus.

Friday, September 18, 2009

when the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie

I have cracked the code. An occurrence (and obstacle) Mister and I have observed over the past 7 years or so is this: If you have a group of people and you have several different kinds of pizza to feed those people, they will always take at least one slice of plain, cheese pizza. I'm pretty sure it's a courtesy or a way of sharing with their fellow pizza-eaters; if they take two pieces of buffalo chicken ranch pizza or hawaiian pineapple ham pizza or seven-meat-meat-lovers' pizza, they somehow do a disservice to someone else who might be similarly interested in that pizza. Also, because people are amused by unusual toppings, if there is [god forbid] a pizza covered with vegetables, it will be the first to disappear.

No one ever thinks about the people who can ONLY eat the plain cheese or weird veggie-topped pizza: vegetarians. So my husband and I find ourselves inevitably warring other pizza-eaters for more than one slice of pizza NOT covered with burnt pieces of animals.

But I have solved the mystery and I'm even more excited about that than I was about discovering an entire pizza that no one wanted but me. Today, to show their great appreciation for us recruiting, hiring, and training over 100 new agents at my workplace, a pizza party was thrown for all trainers, hiring managers, and recruiters. Conveniently, it took place right in the middle of our training day, so by the time my boss and I made it to the party we had to appreciate each other in a dark conference room with cold pizza, alone. Regardless, I had a whole pizza to myself (and no, I didn't eat the whole thing) because apparently no one wants a cheeseless pizza. Perfect! I do!

Tonight's dinner was Pasta with Beans and Chard. When I was shopping, I had the choice between plain old Swiss Chard, Red Chard, and Rainbow Chard.
Guess which one I chose...
It is seriously the coolest green I have ever played It was so vibrant and beautiful I couldn't help taking pictures before mutilating it - I knew it wouldn't be as pretty after a brief but wilting saute with garlic and tomatoes.

Once again, Vegan Express to the rescue - the recipe was easy, fast, and absolutely delicious.

if I didn't have bad luck...

...I wouldn't have any fun stories to tell! I am somewhat convinced that I am only wearing my apron because it says "bitch, bitch, bitch" on it and it's black. Tonight's adventures proved that it doesn't necessarily protect me from flying food the way an apron might protect someone else from flying food. I don't know exactly how it happened, but I know that one minute I was [not so gently] squeezing a quarter of a lime over the soup pot and the next minute I was trying to extract the lime pulp from where it had flown beneath my apron. I didn't even know there was enough space between my sweater and the apron, tied quite snugly around my body, but there was evidently just enough space for a chunk of lime to wedge itself in there and hang out around my belly.

All this fun ended with a delightful and surprising Roasted Yellow Pepper and Corn Bisque from Veganomicon. It didn't take the full amount of time estimated in the cookbook because I used pre-roasted yellow peppers. The soup actually only simmers for 20 minutes once all the yellowy goodness is piled in the pot and brought to boiling. Then the real fun begins - the part you really like if you like kitchen toys: I got to use my immersion blender. By the way, immersion blenders, much like conventional blenders, have different settings from "gentle stirring" to "deadly mutilation." Make sure to check where yours is set before you turn it on and splatter bisque all over your stove, counter, and self.

I served up this pretty yellow soup with what was left of the crusty bread from the farmers market. Good thing, too - it turns out nutmeg can be rather hot when added to soup in sufficient quantities. That surprised the heck out of me.

Also, there are only 12 days left to vote in my poll - I want your feedback! Please let me know someone is actually reading this and vote and/or leave me a comment!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

thyme for tarragon

Isa rocked my world again tonight. In fact, I'm trying to think of a time she's let me down and I cannot think of a single recipe I have made from any of her books that has sucked. Even the esoteric and pleasantly bland Chickpea-Broccoli Casserole from Vegan with a Vengeance was subtly delicious as she promised it would be!

Despite the mid-September "heat wave" persisting through dinnertime tonight, Mister let me make French Lentil Soup with Tarragon and Thyme from Veganomicon since I had picked up fresh, crusty, whole-grain bread at the farmer's market across the street today.
I've mentioned before that I love the way Isa relates some funny story at the beginning of each recipe and this is no different - once again, her appraisal is spot-on:
This is the last lentil soup recipe you will ever need. Tarragon adds a wonderful peppery, licorice flavor that complements this soup like nobody's business. Just try to keep leftovers of this soup stored in the fridge - you will find yourself going back for more all night. After three helpings, keep the lid on it to retain some sense of dignity.
She's right - this soup is sooo good. She thinks it serves 8, and as a soup course it very well may, but for my hungry husband and I, it turned into about half that. I had never cooked with tarragon or french lentils before - it was a pleasure. I have already assigned Mister the task of returning to the Spice Corner tomorrow (it's right down the street from his job) to buy the last bag of french lentils. The tarragon had a very strong smell when I opened the jar, but it ended up blending into the rest of the flavors very well. I think that is what I liked most about this soup: like a talented vocal ensemble, no single "voice" stood out, but rather all the parts wove seamlessly together for a delicious result. As an added bonus, the part of the cooking when the carrots, tomatoes, garlic, tarragon, thyme, and paprika were all saute-ing together smelled amazing.

I looked in my Vegetarian Bible, hoping to find something extolling the multi-talented little legumes that are lentils (like the huge amount of protein they provide: 14 grams in just 1/4 cup) or learn something fascinating about my new found love, Tarragon. However, Ms. Crocker's discussion of lentils was less than illuminating and she completely ignored tarragon. I did, however, find some fun facts on thyme. Sometimes I wonder if I'm late for the bus and everyone else already knows this stuff, but somehow I doubt it: "Thyme is ideal for deep-seated chest infections such as chronic coughs and bronchitis. It is also used to sinusitis, laryngitis, asthma and irritable bowel syndrome." This would have been very helpful to know in high school and college, when I was plagued with sinus infections and acute bronchitis, as if the devil was inside my body trying to steal the only thing that meant anything to me at that time: my voice. Oh well, live and learn.

For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of cooking with thyme, let me finish up tonight with this excerpt from my new favorite reference book:
The taste of thyme is peppery, pungent, slightly sweet and clove-like. It is extremely versatile and can be added to most dishes. It stands up to long cooking in soups, stews, tomato sauces, gumbos, and chowders. Used daily, thyme's antioxidant effect is beneficial. Use thyme in canning and preserving because of its antibacterial, antifungal activity.

Monday, September 14, 2009

he's like the wind

There is no logical reason that I should be sad about Patrick Swayze's passing. I didn't know him personally and his death will have pretty much no effect on my life going forward. And yet, I feel very sad that he is gone. I guess he just seemed like a good person...I mean, really, think about it - have you ever heard someone say something bad about him?

Moving on to happier things before I jump into the pit of depression that has been singing its siren song lately... It turns out my cupcake-muffins have healing abilities! I have received a report of using the ginger-coconut-carrot muffins to cure (or at least distract from) a headache. I know ginger is used for detox and other holistic healing, so I decided to check my brand spankin' new Vegetarian Bible and surely enough, in addition to thinning the blood and stimulating circulation, or perhaps because of it, ginger can relieve headaches! Here are some more fun facts about ginger that may come in handy someday:

1. Ground ginger can calm morning and motion sickness, prevent nausea following chemotherapy, and prevent vomiting. I guess that's why my mom always fed me flat ginger ale when I was sick to my stomach as a kid.

2. Because it stimulates blood flow to the digestive system, ginger enhances the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food/fuel, meanwhile removing toxins to protect the liver and prevent ulcers.

3. Cook with fresh or ground ginger to take advantage of its preventative AND therapeutic qualities in warding off colds and flu. It can also provide relief for those suffering migraines, rheumatoid arthritis and joint stiffness, or if you want to lose weight.

I swear by Yogi Detox Tea throughout cold & flu season. It may be my own little sugar pill, but I have beaten 102 degree fever flus in only three days with its help, and I have managed to build a collaborative fan base. My husband introduced it to me, after his former roommates introduced it to him, and I've passed the love and lore along to colleagues and friends alike. No one has disagreed yet! Warning: the taste is REALLY strong until you get used to it and it'll probably make your tongue numb, too. It's totally worth it, though.

Tonight I made Tuscan Vegetable Ragout for dinner (and had a magical, cure-all cupcake for dessert!). As I mentioned before, this is such a great go-to recipe. Tonight I added smoked tofu (because I love it!) for the first time and I think the next time I make it, I will toss in a couple of cups (cooked) of pasta shells, just for fun and texture. The recipe is great on its own, but invites variation, so I'll be happy to oblige. I've made it a dozen times before so I can't think of anything terribly interesting to say about it, so I'll just show you a picture and move on to my finale:
mmm...big sauteed pile of tomatoes, zucchini, cannellini beans, artichoke hearts, and tofu...mmm...

Before I went to sleep last night, I read through the [very well-written and conversational] introduction to The Accidental Vegan. For reasons I don't think I completely understand, a lot of people seem to be offended by vegetarians/vegans. I can understand the wariness that I might try to preach the Evangelical Gospel of Herbivorism, but since I don't tell other people what to eat, I can't understand why they feel the need to tell me what to eat. At any rate, I have had people demand that I explain to them exactly why I would make such a radical choice regarding my diet, and in moments that confrontational, I tend to freeze up and forget everything I know and everything that helped me make my decision.

In a moment of voluntary self-expression, then, I would like to leave you with the author's summary of some of the things I learned 7 years ago that helped me make the choice I did:
Rising food costs all over the globe can be traced in part to rising standards of living in formerly poor countries, increasing the demand for meat, which exacts a heavy toll on the planet's resources in comparison to plant-based foods. Too much land is being used to grow feed for livestock rather than food for humans, and as a result, there isn't enough food to go around.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I want an IKEA kitchen

I've been spending way too much time in the 2010 IKEA catalog, but seriously - every kitchen looks so efficient, organized, and downright clean. My kitchen is actually pretty well organized for how little space I have, and I have been quite creative in adding storage space and effectively using the decently large cupboards. However, my space is far from efficient. There are times I have to move Mister's bike in order to open a door to an extra cabinet and extract the electric mixer, immersion blender, or 8x8 baking pan. My spices have long since spread out from the 3-tiered wall-affixed spice rack, as well as the pan into which I corralled the extras, and are now about to push each other off of the edge of the counter they have taken over. I have all but given up on trying to better organize my kitchen (and my home) because I recognize that there comes a point where no amount of organization, nifty gadgets, or extra shelving will conquer the unnecessary amount of stuff we have crammed into our home.

I can't wait until that fabulous day that we move. Oh, the purging that will occur along with the will be glorious!

Anyway, I probably should have checked the 10 day forecast on prior to planning this week's menu, though it probably wouldn't have done much good since I'm convinced they're just guessing. It appears (from the gorgeous 80-degree day we enjoyed today) that we have shaken the first cool-down of September and the first part of this week will be summer-like and wholly inappropriate weather for soup dinners. Fortunately (for me), another cold front is supposed to amble in mid-week, making the second half much more amenable to warming-from-within meals. While I wouldn't mind having soup for dinner just about every night of the cooler months, I think Mister would appreciate not having the three soup dinners I planned for this week three nights in a row, so we'll see how I can work that out.

I wanted to enjoy the day a bit because it really was beautiful out (and because sometimes I think if I stay in our tiny, dark apartment too long I'll scream or lose my crackers or something) and when I went to Whole Foods yesterday I saw that the bookstore across the street was having a "buy 2 get 1 free" sale. Also, I needed to try to find black beluga lentils. Having searched the dried and canned bean areas of 4 separate stores, I have come to the conclusion that only restaurants and Nava Atlas are able to purchase these tiny little legumes. The Spice Corner in the Italian Market alleges to carry them, but all I found where they were purported to be were French green lentils (which I also needed). Perhaps I will check back in later in the week. On to the bookstore!

Not surprisingly, my three books are cookbooks - here's the haul:
1. The Accidental Vegan by Devra Gartenstein - My eyes were drawn to this book because of reasons I mentioned previously about accidentally consuming an almost completely vegan diet. I will not say I am Vegan because I still eat yogurt and honey and occasionally cheese, and even if I forsake those things I will still say only that I follow a vegan diet. The reason is this: Presently, at least, I find the entire vegan lifestyle to be too extreme. I have already "deprived myself" of a lot of things in the best interest of human beings: I strive to purchase fair trade goods, I do not purchase clothing from stores or labels that have been confirmed users of sweatshop labor, I sponsor a little girl named Ruth in Zambia, blah blah blah. My reasons for becoming a vegetarian do not now and never did have anything to do with the animals. I think it's terrible how they are treated but I care much more for the impact of the meat industry on the environment and its greed-induced starvation of the hungry in our nation and others. It is my compassion for milk-cows and disgust with the unsanitary guidelines for milk-harvesting that have caused me to (generally) forsake dairy. On the rare occasion we purchase eggs, they are organic and free-range.

That was way longer than I intended it to be. The point I was getting to is this: my diet has been growing slowly more vegan than ovo-lacto vegetarian, so I thought I would give this book a look. As it turns out, not only is it thought-provoking, but it also has some really fun and inventive recipes (which is why I love vegan cookbooks) and an entire section of savory-sounding seitan recipes - in fact, they were the clincher.

2. The Vegetarian Cook's Bible by Pat Crocker - I loved this book because the first 130 pages are a comprehensive discussion of the various health benefits of vegetables and fruits, as well as some grains. The author shares how your diet affects each of your body's main systems (Cardiovascular, Endocrine, Digestive, Immune, Musculoskeletal, Nervous, and Respiratory) and then goes through whole foods from apples to zucchini, including grains, herbs, and spices along the way, sharing each food's health benefits (actions), uses, how to buy/store, culinary uses, and then points to several recipes in the book that use that particular food. It appears to also have some great recipes along with some killer food photos, but that is really an added bonus - I bought it for the first 130 pages.

3. The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau - Honestly, this one won my heart because I'm a sucker for entertaining and for entertaining page layouts. The subtitle, if you will, is "200 Unforgettable Recipes for Entertaining Every Guest at Every Occasion." I figure it might help catapult me to my destiny as a less pastel, more animal/human-friendly Martha Stewart. The structure of the book is slightly confusing for my categorizing mind - there is no Soup chapter or Dessert section - it is arranged by menu, and therefore goes from the appetizer to the dessert of a specifically-themed menu meant for, well, entertaining. As I've mentioned before, I really do appreciate it when cookbook authors take the guesswork out of meal construction and just tell me what to serve with the main course. Each page is a pleasure to behold; in addition to the recipe, the author provides nutritional information, serving suggestions and variations, informational tidbits, and Compassionate Cooks' tips (how to get ham flavor without the pig) and Food Lore (like fennel and pomegranate seeds as ancient viagra). That was just randomly flipped to, by the way, and not the reason I bought the book.

I always make the same mistake, though: I buy new cookbooks the day after planning and shopping for the week's menu. Oh well, it will give me at least a week to carefully dwell on each one before making selections for next week's menu. I'm really excited about those first 130 pages of book #2, though, because of my fascination with nutrition and holistic health, so I plan to use it in bringing a bit more depth of thought to future posts.

In case you were wondering, we had Pasta Jambalaya tonight. It was very good and came together faster than my other two Jambalaya recipes, probably owing to the use of pasta in place of rice. I probably should have let the celery saute a little longer - it was a little too crunchy - it seemed out of place. It was tasty and fun but definitely higher in fat than my other recipes (due to the delightful Tofurky Kielbasa) and not quite as stick-to-your-ribs hearty. In the end, it was nothing to spend a lot of time babbling about (especially after how long this post is already), but I'll probably make it again. It's pretty, too!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

cardboard cask...classy

Due to several factors, I was actually off from work today. The first part of the day (after the coffee and strawberry/yogurt oatmeal part) was quite full of angst and Angst. It involved him hiding from me and me banging on things to try to get him to stop hiding - probably not the most effective strategy in hindsight. Anyway, after I gave up on trying to "unhide" the cat, I went on my food shopping adventures.

And so, faithful readers, in this post we will:
1. see this week's menu
2. see tonight's dinner
3. babble about wine (2 glasses in)
4. discuss neighborly behavior

Starting from the bottom up (no pun intended), I will now tell you the previously alluded to story of what it means to be a good neighbor. When I had my hair done last week, it took three hours to put two colors in and cut it. That's a lot of time to talk to the person slopping your head up with colored goo. In our conversation, Candi related a tale of not-so-neighborly conduct by some girls who work at a salon across the street, located in a gym, strangely enough. We shared our ridiculously out-of-fashion ideas of how new neighbors were greeted to the neighborhood "back in the day." I can remember being a child and accompanying my mother with a plate of brownies or chocolate chip cookies to the still-disheveled home of a new neighbor just moving in. Anyway, today I made 2 dozen ginger-coconut-carrot muffins and packed half of them up in a shiny gold shoebox, then marched them across the street to "welcome" Candi to the neighborhood. So, I'm feeling like a good neighbor right about now.

I bought wine today. I'm very amused that I can't say "I bought a bottle of wine" and the reason is that I bought a cask of wine. Or at least, that's what the manufacturers decided to call the cardboard box that houses the bag that holds my wine. Either way, it's 3 liters of delicious Pinot Noir - as summer ends, so does my affair with Riesling. I have had this wine before - it marks a brilliant crossroads between dry and fruity and the fruitiness is primarily a darker variety - cherry and blackberry - so it fits well with the drier qualities. Nevertheless, the whole reason I ever tried this wine was its name: Pinot Evil (see no evil, ha ha ha). It even has the three monkeys.
According to the of wine, those 3 liters represent 4 bottles of wine, so hopefully it will last me a while!

Tonight I made Polenta & Vegetable Bake for dinner.
It was wonderful - good enough for Mister to have thirds. It was perfectly hearty and very rich without being overly so. It was also extraordinarily easy to make and came together much more quickly than I thought it would. Mister doesn't like eggplant, so I just diced two zucchini. I also added two cloves of garlic because I just felt like it needed it. It was a little watery and was difficult to transport from the baking dish to our eating dishes, but it tasted amazing. I will definitely make this again. As a side note (hearkening back to that wretched Cavit Pinot Noir), my pretty glass of Pinot Evil was the perfect match to dinner's flavors.
Now for this week's menu (my refrigerator and cupboards are full of fun ingredients!):
1. Stewed Lentils with Soy Sausage; with Fingerling Fries (both from Vegan Express by Nava Atlas - I just can't get away from this book!)
2. Pasta Jambalaya (also from Vegan Express)
3. Pasta with Beans and Chard (also from Vegan Express)
4. Double Pea Soup with Roasted Red Peppers (from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero)
5. Roasted Yellow Pepper and Corn Bisque (also from Veganomicon)
6. French Lentil Soup with Tarragon and Thyme (also from Veganomicon)
7. Tuscan Vegetable Ragout (from Vegetarian Times Fast & Easy) This is another one of those old favorites you can lean on when you want something savory and simple. The whole book is great, but a little tofu-heavy. I like tofu now, but when I first got the book, I really wasn't a fan.

You'll notice I've cited sources for all recipes on this week's menu, which means they aren't mine. Now that the weather is cooling down (to my ineffable delight), I want to make soups and baked dishes. The same way that I learned to create skillet suppers and sautes over the summer, I will learn to create savory baked dishes and soul-warming soups: by recreating other people's for a few weeks. I figure I'll spend September, maybe the first part of October "researching," and then I'll get another creative streak like I did in early August and pump out a bunch of casserole and soup recipes. So, for now, I will make what has been made before and I will focus every last tastebud on the purpose of discerning what makes this dish or that dish taste so good. And then I'll let you know!

One last thing: I have added a poll on the right side of this page because I want your opinion. If you think the name I've quasi-settled on is stupid, please leave me a comment and either tell me why you think it's stupid and/or what better name you would suggest. Thank you!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

3 meals, 3 things

It was a dark and stormy night...the rain beat against the windowpanes and below the window, cars could be heard splashing through the puddles. Angst had tucked his feet beneath his body and greatly resembled a large, fuzzy, gray egg.

So I made one of the most colorful meals imaginable, just for spite.
Tonight I made Fiestadillas again, although I did actually add a sprinkling of shredded mozzarella to each one to help it adhere to the tortilla better. It kind of worked, though I probably could have used more cheese. Surprisingly, I just wasn't all that interested in piling on something that used to be a favorite food and now seems to be loaded with unhealthiness. Don't mind me - I'm just over-analyzing. I did actually take a picture this time!Also, in my continuing attempt to make "well-rounded" and balanced meals, I made a side dish - Spiced Potatoes & Green Beans from the September Cooking Light magazine. It was pretty easy, smelled great, tasted even better, and to my delight and astonishment, it looked very much like it did in the magazine!No cupcake stories today...and it turns out my assistance is needed at work tomorrow, so I will have to hold off on my good-neighbor-cupcake-baking until Sunday (as well as the accompanying story). I won't leave you sweet-less, though!

When I was at Whole Foods the other day, I picked up this sweet treat - Clif nectar cacao bar, flavor: dark chocolate walnut.

At 160 calories and delivering two servings of fruit cloaked in the most realistic dark chocolate taste and texture I've found yet, this chocolate-oriented fruit & nut bar is my winner (as far as vegan chocolate fun goes). It actually reminded me a little of the first bar of vegan chocolate I ever ate, on my honeymoon in Lake Tahoe. My (brand new) husband and I went to a paradise within my heaven: a wine and chocolate store. Honestly - the only thing better than a wine & gourmet chocolate store was that it was located in the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever been. So anyway, we gawked at $500 bottles of special vintage wines, poked at some way-too-exotic-for-our-tastes chocolates and ended up leaving with about $50 worth of organic, fair-trade, and vegan chocolates.

Not a bad flavor association for a $1.19 bar made of dates, walnuts, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa, and vanilla (all organic) that can be easily purchased a mere 5 blocks from my home (rather than about 3,000 miles). So I think it goes without saying I was very happy with this bar and it will definitely find its way into my basket again!

I feel like it's Reverse Day. I started the blog with dinner, babbled about my midday snack, and now I'm going to tell you about breakfast (because I just remembered). Anyway, I think I got all my fruit servings in for the day with this morning's breakfast: Oatmeal, cooked in unsweetened soy milk, but here's the twist: I hulled 5 large strawberries and peeled my two remaining bananas, stuck them in my handy food processor, then stirred the resulting slop into my oatmeal. Oh my heavens was it good! It was just the right amount of sweet and perfectly thick. I was only going to do one banana until I realized that if I left the other one hanging there, fruit flies would take control of my home.

One last thing before I go - if you're feeling philosophical, check out my old buddy's new blog:
3 Things in DC.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I like my men like I like my rapini...bitter and green

Sorry. It couldn't be helped.

I took some of my cupcakes to work to share with my trainees (and a couple other lucky folks). One of my trainees said the chocolate banana cupcakes tasted healthy. I don't know how I feel about that, but both the chocolate banana cupcakes and the ginger-coconut-carrot cupcakes were very well received by my boss. Well received = wolfed down.

When I came home from work, Mister had been home for hours. He's been pretending not to be sick for days, but today it hit him at work and he came home, right after his boss sent him to some fruity Eastern-medicine-man who gave him some herbal pills. I'm all for alternative healing, and the last time he sent Mister to this guy for acupuncture it worked wonders, but Mister's description of his visit makes me wonder how the guy even knew what to "prescribe." Reading the ingredients of the pills, though, it looks like some kind of herbal detox with a lot of the herbs that probably taste too bad to put into my detox tea.

My idea of the perfect cure for anything that ails you? SOUP! So dinner was Hearty Peasant Soup and it was hearty alright! It was basically a tomato-based soup with plenty of beans and rapini (broccoli rabe). It came together quite easily and quickly, compared with some of my [beloved] Moosewood soups that take 2 or more hours to prepare. Mister laughed at my appraisal of our dinner, but here it is: it tasted very natural...smoky and green, which is a bizarre combination. I would almost say woody, but I don't know if I want to apply that word to soup. The rapini was quite bitter...I think I prefer it steamed in a soy sauce marinade, rather than simmered in a tomato-y soup...I think the soy sauce brings out the bitterness in a much more complementary way than the acidity of the tomatoes, combined with the pleasantly astringent flavor of the 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar. I will make it again, but I think I will try to substitute kale for the rapini and make some hot, crusty, rustic garlic bread to serve alongside.

Monday, September 7, 2009

dessert before dinner

It's been a delightful long weekend...I hate to think about going back to work tomorrow, so I'm going to share my tasty food stories (and pictures) with you instead.

Last night the baking bug bit me, so I pulled out Vegan with a Vengeance and set to work making Ginger-Macadamia-Coconut-Carrot Cake, except I substituted pecans for the macadamia nuts and I made cupcakes because it is so much more convenient to have the servings already portioned out! As the name suggests, this is no ordinary carrot cake. There is pineapple juice sweetening the batter and chunks of crystallized ginger throughout the cakes. In addition to the the coconut flakes baked into the cakes, I cut off the tops and made them into little baby layer cakes and frosted them with Isa's Coconut Heaven Frosting. I actually don't like icing/frosting on cakes because they tend to be too sweet, as was the case with this one, but despite the prettiness of his Birthday Coffeecake, Mister has impressed upon me the importance of birthday cakes having icing, so I made these to make up for his frostingless birthday cake.
Despite the frosting melting quite quickly and being sweet enough to give you a cavity just by looking at it, we each had two of these delightful and quirky cupcakes.

Unfortunately, that adventure only increased the hold Baking had over me, so today I set about to bake something that had formed in my head overnight. I can't say I dream of cupcakes, but I did wake up with this idea. A short segue: most of my favorite treats involve some kind of fruit being coated in chocolate. A tasty treat I haven't enjoyed in years (for no good reason) is a frozen chocolate covered banana. good. So, to capture all the tastiness without all the cold (I believe I mentioned we're having a bit of a cool-snap), I made Chocolate-Covered Banana Cupcakes.
Chocolate-Covered Banana Cupcakes
makes 12

2 cups flour, lightly spooned and leveled with a knife
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup honey (to make vegan, substitute 1/2 cup sugar)
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 bananas
1/4 cup dark chocolate peanut butter* or Nutella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place liners in cupcake pan.
Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon with a whisk in a large bowl.
In a food processor, combine peeled bananas, broken in half, with honey, water, oil, and vanilla. Process until smooth, about 15-20 seconds.
Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and mix until combined - this will go faster with the help of a hand-held electric mixer.
Scoop batter into lined cupcake pan, dividing evenly and filling each cup almost to the top.
Bake 25-27 minutes, until a toothpick (tester) inserted into the center of a centrally located cupcake comes out clean.
Cool in pan 5-10 minutes, then remove cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack.
Put chocolate peanut butter/Nutella in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 15-20 seconds. Spread on cooled cupcakes.

**Note: I used "Dark Chocolate Dreams" by Peanut Butter & Co.
It's actually Chocolate Covered Katie's fault - I would never have known it even existed if it weren't for her. Actually, she can share the blame with an old friend of mine who recently undertook what he named "The Nutella Experiment." It made me remember how much I loved Nutella when I was in high school, so when I was at the grocery store, I decided to either pick some up or read the label until I remembered why I don't eat it anymore. Then, magically, I saw this out of the corner of my eye, hanging out just above the big, shiny SALE sign. So there you have it. Moving on...

I thought up a second fun, nostalgic cupcake recipe and stood in my kitchen for about 5 minutes, trying to decide whether to keep going after the Chocolate-Covered Banana cupcakes or save some for later. In the interest of being a good neighbor (I'll explain when we get there) I've decided to refrain from baking the other cupcakes until Friday.

Dinner tonight was Roasted Heirlooms on Orecchiette, although I had to substitute medium shells for the orecchiette because I couldn't find any. I refuse to believe that only Walmart carries this pasta. Anyway, I had been wanting to use heirloom tomatoes for something ever since they made their first appearance in Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago. This is a really simple recipe, but it's soooo good (and extremely garlicky - not for the faint of heart or nose).

Roasted Heirlooms on Orecchiette
6 servings

4-5 large mixed heirloom tomatoes
8-10 cloves of garlic, pressed/minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
13 oz orecchiette pasta (or shells)
10 oz jar of pesto

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Core, seed, and chop the tomatoes. Press garlic cloves over the tomatoes in a non-reactive roasting dish, then drizzle the olive oil over top. Toss well with your hands.
Roast for 30 minutes, stirring twice (at 10 and 20 minutes in).
Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, return to pot and toss with pesto. Add roasted tomatoes and toss well.
Serve immediately, with olives and Parmesan, if so inclined.

I'll leave you with a shot of my gorgeous heirloom tomatoes: