Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Amazing Vegan Casserole (part 2)

What a delightful 3-day weekend! I took Friday off so we could celebrate our anniversary, but we ended up carting more stuff over to the thrift store - they ought to be making a fortune off of our desire to have nothing in our home. Also, Mister found (bought) some boxes and threw all the miscellaneous bits and pieces littering the floor into them and tucked them away. Suddenly, there's all this space! We're still not done, but we actually have room to get a sofa now! A little one, anyway.
Angst, stretching out in the middle of the floor

In between rainclouds, I managed to get my shopping done today, so I can get to the last of the purging and sorting at my leisure. We're so close to having a liveable space that I'm actually starting to see our home as cozy instead of cramped. Really, to tell the truth, our apartment has been enough to give an agoraphobic claustrophobia.

Anyway, before I share my wonderful dinner story, let me give you this week's menu (including tonight's dinner):

1. Indian-Inspired Lasagna

2. Seitanic Red & White Bean Jambalaya
from Veganomicon.

3. Mandarin Tofu with Peppers & Broccoli

4. Risotto Mexicano

5. Miso-Ginger Red Beans with Broccoli
from Vegan Express.

I have made all of the above at least once before (for more info/stories, follow the helpful links!), except the lasagna. I made that tonight and I could not be happier with how it came out!
I'll grant you that it doesn't look much like lasagna, but that is because
A) it is vegan and therefore has no bubbly cheese topping
B) the only thing that really makes it lasagna is that I used lasagna noodles. It probably ought to be called something else, like Layered Indian Casserole, but that is so uninspired.

Anyway, the reason I am so pleased with the "lasagna" is because it is my very first baked dinner recipe! I'm not sure how it happened, but I got this idea in my head to make a chickpea "ricotta" and have an apple layer for texture and that moment of "Oh! That's different!" As I sat and thought about other components of Indian cooking, the other parts all came together. I'll share the recipe, and if you can think of a better name for my first vegan casserole, that would be great.
Indian-Inspired Lasagna (until something better comes along)
Serves 8-10
3/4 cup red lentils
1 1/2 cups water
two 19 oz cans of chickpeas
1-1 1/2 cups V8 Spicy Hot
two 10 oz packages of frozen chopped spinach
28 oz petite diced tomatoes, well drained
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp Garam Masala
1/2 tsp salt
1 apple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
8-10 lasagna noodles, oven-ready or cooked

Bring water to boiling and stir in lentils. Lower to a slow simmer and cover. Cook 20-30 minutes, until lentils are mushy and have absorbed all the water. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot on medium heat. Saute the mustard seeds, covered, until they start popping. Lower the heat and add the Garam Masala and salt - cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute, then add the frozen spinach and turn the heat back up. Cover and cook 5-10 minutes, until spinach is no longer frozen. Add drained tomatoes and stir well. Cook, uncovered, on medium-low heat until most of the liquid has cooked off.
Combine chickpeas and V8 juice in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth and of a spreadable consistency, adding more juice if necessary. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and combine with mashed lentils, stirring well.
Spray a 9x13" baking dish with cooking spray and place a layer of 4-5 lasagna noodles on the bottom. Spread half of the chickpea "ricotta" over noodles, then half of the spinach mixture over the "ricotta." Arrange the apple slices in three rows across the spinach layer. Top with 4-5 more noodles, the remaining chickpea ricotta and the remaining spinach mixture. Smooth the top and place in the preheated oven. Cook, uncovered, about 45 minutes. Allow it to set for a few moments before serving and it will look more like this:

Friday, October 30, 2009

step by step, oh baby

For anyone who actually got that NKOTB reference, kudos!

A new mental challenge has launched, though unless I am severely underestimating the situation, my decision in this matter will have no effect on my everlasting soul. Regarding the matters of conscience with which I have been struggling lately, I will say this (also related to the title):

I don't need to decide right now. That realization is very liberating! Somehow, I managed to convince myself that by the end of October I had to make an all-or-nothing decision about whether or not I will commit myself to being a faithful vegan, but I don't, actually. I have spent a month avoiding dairy products and eggs. I have also forsaken honey (and found agave nectar to be an equal substitute) and I am thinking more critically about the non-food aspects of a vegan lifestyle. As was evidenced in my 3-part series on honey, it takes me a little time and pondering to come up with the decision I am convinced is right for me.

Speaking of food...dinner last night wasn't terribly interesting and I really didn't have anything interesting to say about it. I guess I could say the same for dinner tonight - they were both good dinners, but neither of them really stood out against some of our favorites.
The Garlicky Spaghetti with Beans & Greens was very tasty and even more photogenic. Angst attacked me from behind (and totally surprised me, to Mister's great delight) when I started to open the bag of arugula. I told him it wasn't spinach, but he didn't care and gleefully ate his piece of arugula while I stealthily added the rest of the bag to the pot. I love the creamy butteriness of cannellini beans, especially in contrast with the peppery bite of the arugula. Someday I'll have to eat it raw, in a salad, like normal people.
Tonight I made Chickpea, Tomato and Spelt Soup. I had never had spelt before, and apparently, neither had my husband, since he didn't know what it was until I showed it to him. He's getting wise to my tricks. He asked me what I was making for dinner and then asked what spelt was (presumably so he could stop me before I made something gross). I forgot to add the salt and I think that made a big difference in how garlicky I perceived the soup as being - I'll make it again someday and I will be sure to add the salt with the spices.

Now, on to the important stuff - my newest dilemma. Having found that I can, for the most part, count on getting feedback and various responses from those of you who read my blog, I hope I'll continue to get some great information, especially from anyone else who loves to cook. When I got married (two years ago, in case you've forgotten already), I felt it was uncouth to tell people where we were registered because it is never my opinion that I deserve gifts. As a result, we got a lot of gift cards. Between my bridal shower and the wedding, we probably got at least 5 gift cards to Bed Bath and Beyond in varying amounts, and I am on the mailing list, so they send me coupons for $ off or % off my purchase. I took my gift cards and my coupons and left very satisfied with myself for purchasing an entire set of name-brand cookware for $85. Well, you get what you pay for, and two years later, I find myself in a position of needing to replace at least half the set.

Initially, I thought that I would just get a whole new set and keep the few pieces that are still in relatively good condition, but then I realized that there are really only a few pieces that truly need replacing:

1. my 2.5 quart saucepan is in urgent need of being replaced. I don't know what happened - I can only guess it's the result of my continuing inability to judge the cooking time of rice and having to scrape the bottom bits off of the "non-stick" pan. In any case, I want to replace it ASAP.

2. my 6-quart stock pot is okay, but definitely showing signs of wear and will need to be replaced eventually...that is, sometime in the next few months. It just makes me nervous when I cook spices and hear them grinding against the bottom of the pot while I stir.

3. my wok (though it's not actually part of the set) is getting seriously scratched up and as I mentioned previously, the last time I used it, it abruptly decided that it doesn't want to be non-stick anymore. Also, it looks like it's starting to rust a little near the scratches and though iron is a vital nutrient, I'm not sure that's the best way to get it.

4. my saute pan does not actually need to be replaced. There is nothing wrong with it - it's not scratched, it still believes it is non-stick, I use it just about every day specifically because it doesn't give me any trouble. However, as I explained when I made the Black Bottom Tofu, since it is a smaller saute pan (3 quarts) it doesn't really allow the food to spread out as much as I would like it to. Also, I have recently learned that things don't really caramelize in non-stick cookware. So I don't need to replace the saute pan as much as I would like to augment my "collection" (aka, start it) of saute pans...So it appears that my first piece of stainless steel cookware will probably be a saute pan.

The first cookware set I ever had was RevereWare that was so old the copper bottom had worn off and it could only be identified by the engraved emblem on the bottom. It was great when all I had to do was boil water, but once I started to actually COOK, I found the metal way too thin and the bottoms were warped which made the food cook unevenly (obviously).

My current set is Cuisinart. I am a Cuisinart queen - almost all of my kitchen appliances are Cuisinart: my beloved coffeemaker, my treasured immersion blender, and my invaluable food processor. I even have a Cuisinart travel mug. So it seemed like a good idea to get Cuisinart cookware, especially when I could get a whole 10-piece set for $85. I get kind of retarded about saving money sometimes. When I was getting ready to buy that set, I knew I didn't know anything about the qualities of various kinds of cookware. I hacked my way through a jungle of explanations about hard-anodized, non-stick, copper-core, enameled, etc. As soon as I saw the "value" of that cookware set, everything I had pored over shot right out of my brain as though it had never even settled there.

So, here I am again, poking around on various websites, trying to make a much more responsible decision than last time in the hopes that this set of cookware will last me until I can afford (and justify) a truly amazing collection of all different kinds of metals and construction - as well as a kitchen large enough to store them. At the moment, I'm leaning towards Calphalon Contemporary because I have a few pieces (like my amazing square skillet) that I love. I have already had some "helpful" suggestions from a couple of friends who also love to cook and know that it's serious business:

Friend #1 suggests that I slowly build my collection of high-quality cookware piece by piece (or step by step?) so that I can get what I really want but can't afford a whole set of. Considering that I don't actually need a whole set of cookware right now, that could work. I have two issues with this.
1. I feel like they put together cookware sets as a bargain - you know, a package discount? So, I feel like I will spend more by buying a piece here and a piece there.
2. Just one piece of the cookware I really want can cost more than half of what an entire set of Calphalon can cost.

Friend #2, who is a very bad influence on me, suggested I get a part-time job at Williams Sonoma for the holiday shopping season and thereby take advantage of the very generous employee discount they offer to purchase the aforementioned very expensive cookware at only a fraction of it's regular cost. I think this suggestion is brilliant. I also think that I would spend every cent I earned there on fun cooking toys. If there was anything left after the toys, I would take it across the street to my other toybox - MAC.

The main problem with that suggestion is that I already work 6 days a week, so I don't know where I would find the time for another job.

Does anyone have any other suggestions or feedback? What do you use? Do you like it? Would you recommend it? If you had all the money in the world, what brand would you buy? My current answers to that question are Le Creuset and All-Clad. If I had a spare $4,000 lying around, I would absolutely buy this.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

unpeeled and an appeal

This will be a quick post, since it was No-Cook Wednesday. Actually, that is becoming a misnomer. Last Wednesday I didn't want to eat leftovers, like I've eaten every Wednesday for about a year, so I made my funny little pear-inspired dish. Tonight, I decided to roast my garnet yam because I knew Mister wouldn't want to share and I also knew I wouldn't be motivated to do anything with it when I was already preparing a meal. My dinner ended up being an interesting progression of "courses." While the yam was roasting away (cubed, tossed with olive oil, 30 minutes at 450, stirring once at 15 minutes), I ate the last three bites of Monday's Broccoli with Beef and had a slice of bread with Earth Balance. Then, after waiting only long enough to prevent blistering the roof of my mouth, I went for my roasted yam bits. So good!

I didn't take a picture because they really weren't that attractive. I cubed the yam too small and kind of burnt the hell out of half the pieces. But I believe my future holds many more of these happy little tubers, so maybe next time they'll be prettier. That leads me back to where I was going when I started writing - No-Cook Wednesdays are undergoing a little renovation. I have decided to devote them to all the foods I like but Mister won't eat (tempeh, eggplant, yams, squash) and all the foods I want to try that I don't think Mister will eat (primarily squash). Along the way, perhaps I will come up with some fun cooking-for-one recipes that I can make into a separate section in my imaginary cookbook and give me inspiration for any future out-of-town engagements Mister has, rather than eating cereal for dinner like I used to. I believe a new name is in order - unless anyone can suggest something better, I think we'll go with One-Serving Wednesdays.

Finally, the appeal. This wool thing is really tearing at me. I still have not decided if I think wool is "too cruel" to be worn, but I don't want to go ahead and buy a wool coat just to decide halfway through winter that I DO think it's wrong and then be stuck with a wool coat for another half-decade. Currently in my possession (between me and Mister) are two wool coats and 3 leather jackets and more than a few pairs of leather shoes. If I end up "taking the plunge" and making a lifestyle out of this October Experiment, I will not get rid of those things because I already own them. By now, I have done a decent amount of research about vegan clothing and various alternatives. I am definitely of the school of thought that there is no harm in "using up" what I have and then replacing those items with cruelty-free items when the time comes.

I did a lot of digging for wool alternatives in particular, since I did not get any follow up responses to my post yesterday and I need to resolve this for myself sooner than later. I think the time is drawing near for me to write my "reasons I am not [yet] vegan" post, because a lot of those reason are already coming out (and because October is nearly over). In any case, today's research leads me to these conclusions:

1. The reason only vegans buy vegan shoes and clothes is because they are ugly. If they are not ugly, they are far too expensive to be a realistic choice for most of us.
2. The only wool alternative mentioned by any of the dozens of sites I visited was polar fleece. Like I said yesterday, you would just about have to set the rest of my clothes on fire to convince me to wear that. It's just not my style.
3. If I see the word Hemp one more time, I might give up.

As with any paradigm/belief system, those who follow want to attract other followers and help them to see the truth they have found. Unfortunately, it's normally easier to preach to the choir than the detention hall inhabitants. I have gone to countless vegan "fashion" websites, as well as general cruelty-free lifestyle websites and discussion boards, but I see the same thing everywhere: some regurgitation of what I read on PETA's graphic Save The Sheep site. If I can't get on board with them, you won't win me to your way of thinking by telling me the same things in a different order (and not even changing the words - F for plagiarism). The other thing I see everywhere is the Gospel of Polar Fleece and Cotton. Despite all the great things about both of these materials, even the people promoting them as vegan-friendly alternatives to wool will admit that polar fleece is only really warm if you layer it with other materials and it's only wind-proof if you put a shell over it, and that most cotton garments have at some point passed through the hands of sweatshop labor...which does NOT equal cruelty-free in my book.

So my appeal is this: Can someone point me to a non-PETA referenced/based discussion on wool and alternatives to wool that won't make me look like a hippie?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

at last, my love has come along..

My lonely days are over
And life is like a song
At last, the skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clovers
The night I looked at you
I found a dream that I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own
I found a thrill to rest my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known
Oh, yeah when you smile, you smile
Oh, and then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
For you are mine
At last

Today marked the anniversary of my second blissful year of marriage to my best friend and love of my life. Ironically, when I woke up this morning, it was gray and pouring rain, just like it was two years ago. I was running ahead of schedule (how many brides can say that?), had collected everything I needed the night before so that I wouldn't have to rush in the morning. All I had to do was shove Angst into his box (kitty carrier) and stumble through the rain to my car with him and all the other stuff I was taking. Oh, and don't forget the umbrella! I finally get out to my car and the remote entry wasn't working. Prepared to hit the killswitch on my car alarm the minute I pop open the door manually, I turn the key in the lock. No alarm. When I turn the key in the ignition...nothing. So about an hour later, after much swearing and pouting, Angst and I and all my stuff have been reloaded into Mister's truck and we're on our way to the beauty salon. At noon on the dot, the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and it was a beautiful sunny day, the wet spots on the road the only indication it had rained at all. Everything went beautifully until about two hours before the ceremony, when my husband's taxi breaks down and they have to get another one and they're still 45 minutes away from the church. Miraculously (obviously), he got there on time and commenced to making me the happiest woman on earth. And he still does, every day.

In any case, there isn't a whole lot of romance you can affect on a Tuesday evening after you've both just worked a full day and it's 8:30 pm. So Mister greeted me at the door with kisses and smiles and while I was putting down my bag and taking off my jacket, he disappeared into the bedroom and came out with gorgeous long-stemmed red roses. They smell so good (and so edible, to Angst) and roses are my favorites (I know, it's cliche, whatever) and red is my favorite color. I'm such a lucky little wife. After more smiles and kisses, I got to work on dinner. We both have off from work this Friday, so we're going to have a date and celebrate for real then. Tonight, we had Chickpea Stew with Fried Polenta and this time I didn't overpulvarize the stew/sauce:
Also, we had some fun accompaniments, resulting a gorgeous (and delicious) still life:
When I was at Whole Foods on Sunday, since I was just picking up olives for the sake of eating them and not because I needed a specific kind of olive for a specific recipe, I decided to get a few of all the different kinds we've never had before. It started with these amazingly emerald green olives, then some very plump purple olives, and I know we've had them before, but these other green olives are just so good, and I'll grab some mezze mix Greek olives while I'm here... So we sampled them with dinner. It's a shame I can't remember any names...the emerald green ones were very oily and mild in flavor, which was in total contrast to the plump purple ones that were SO flavorful and bitter that I forgot for a moment that Balsamic vinegar is not made from olives.

Regarding the newest challenge of ethical decision making: I appreciate the feedback I got on my last post, specifically pointing me towards, another PETA project. I really like it when people not only share with me their own opinions on matters like this but also provide resources that (I assume) helped them to make up their minds. I took quite a while to plod through that website and other links provided, and as always, found PETA's photojournalism to be shocking and in generally poor taste. I understand the point is to show the absolute brutal truth in the cruelty experienced in probably the vast majority of industry-related animal farming, but there is a very good reason people look at PETA fanatics the way they do: it seems like a cult. The tactics are very much the same - evoke a very strong reaction to something in order to win people to your point of view. And it works - after all, exposure to PETA propaganda and videos were what caused my first go-around with veganism in 2003.

The information on and various other sites it linked to was somewhat helpful, at least in clearing up a few things regarding the treatment of wool-producing sheep and wool-harvesting procedures. I learned a few new and horrific vocabulary words, like mulesing (I'm not going into it on a full stomach - you can look it up if you're interested). However, there is a vital piece of the puzzle missing for me still. PETA has taken the time and extraordinary effort to put together a list of "cruelty-free" brands and vendors of various vegan things (leather alternatives, things of that nature) and at several points they praise the wonderful synthetic materials used in goods made at "value" stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, etc, as well as Victoria's Secret and other "high-end" retailers. The piece that's missing is people.

I have mentioned before that my primary reason for becoming a vegetarian was actually related to how the meat industry exploits and harms people, though I do find the mistreatment of the animals in question abhorrent as well. But what really helped me make my mind up was knowing how many more people we could share our food with if we just stopped feeding it all to the cows we breed and raise just to kill and use to overfeed our grossly overweight nation. Believe it or not (though, if you're reading this, you probably believe), there actually is enough food in the world to feed all the people of the world, but instead, we're feeding it to livestock that won't live much longer anyway. So when PETA pushes for the purchase of synthetic materials sold in the stores on their special "cruelty-free" list, it makes me wonder if PETA has forgotten that Humans, like Bees, are also animals and also should not be mistreated or exploited for other people's gain. If you took that list apart, you would probably find more of those shops purchase goods made in sweatshops than you'd be comfortable with. I don't care if I sound like a fundamentalist, God-made-man-to-rule-over-the-earth-and-everything-in-it ignoramus - I still think it's important to prevent cruelty to people who are treated about as well as these factory-farmed animals, and if that means wearing wool from a sheep rather than a cotton shirt stitched in the 11th hour of labor by a 12-year-old, well then I guess I'm just not a PETA spokesperson.

Nevertheless, I welcome more of your thoughts on how to be
1. warm
2. ethical/compassionate
3. stylish - I am NOT wearing polar-fleece or any of that other fuzzy crap and puffy coats should not exist outside of the juniors department of {insert store name here}.

So please, if you have insight for me, leave me a comment!

Monday, October 26, 2009

bees and cows and sheep, oh my!

Okay, so maybe there isn't the same sense of fear as there would be when confronted with lions and tigers and bears, but these gentle creatures offer a more cerebral challenge. While the wild beasts of Oz may threaten physical danger, our honey-producing, leather-wearing, and wool-covered friends threaten our paradigms and ethical stands.

I had some great responses to my honey-flavored ramblings. A few helpful readers pointed me in the direction of some other resources I had not found in my own hunt for answers as to why honey was not considered vegan. And though I still needed some time to ruminate on that information before coming to realize that I do, in fact, find so many things wrong with the human consumption (and by necessity, burglary) of honey, I'm going to push my luck and appeal for help again.

It is a gorgeous autumn in Philadelphia. I have more or less given up on believing weather forecasters, because I really think they employ only slightly more science than native Americans who raised their eyes to the clouds and said "I think it will rain." I also put absolutely NO faith in a book written hundreds of years ago and its alleged ability to foresee the weather this winter. Nevertheless, whether we get the super-cold-and-snowy winter everyone is screaming about or not, it really does get very cold in this part of the country.

A few years ago (actually more like five or six), I got a beautiful black lambswool cashmere coat for Christmas. Not only is it beautiful and stylish, it is extremely warm when the winter wind blows. It is also starting to show its age - the lining is beginning to tear and I noticed some "balding" spots where the seatbelt rubs against my coat when I'm driving. If I don't replace it this winter, I will probably have to do so by next year. The urgency, however, to replace my coat comes from the going-on-now Macy's coat sale. When I visited the website, I found a couple of beautiful and warm and comfy looking wool coats for what I found to be a reasonable price.

This, of course, raises the conundrum about how ethical (or not) it is to rob sheep of their wool in order to craft a coat to keep me warm for many winters to come. I am not wasteful. I wear my clothing until it is threadbare or faded beyond what could vaguely pass for professional. I wear my shoes until they have holes in them or are broken in some other way. I drive my cars until they don't go anymore. If there is even enough leftover from a meal I've made to pass as a single-serving side dish, I will put it in tupperware and save it for later. So believe me, my stuff lasts. Like I said, I have had my current wool coat for 5-6 years. I also have a leather jacket that has lasted me a decade of winters and isn't even close to quitting. Unfortunately, it's not quite warm enough for January and February.

Admittedly, I have not done any research into this yet. If I don't hear back from any of you, I will do my usual google nonsense, but if someone already knows a compelling reason why I shouldn't buy a new wool coat this winter, I would love to hear it. Currently, I just can't see the harm - after all, it grows back. Obviously, there is something at least a little exploitative about stealing the fur off an animal to make clothes for me, but unlike silk or leather or a fur coat, which actually involves killing the animal who "supplied" the material, the sheep lives to bleat another day. I guess that is what keeps me from feeling bad about wearing wool.

So if anyone has some insight they would like to share with me, I would really appreciate it.

On a lighter note - I made Stir-Fried "Beef" with Broccoli and Peppers for dinner tonight. The steak strips were so much different stir-fried than they were in that funny Irish stew I put them in last time. I couldn't tell if they were saltier or if that was the soy sauce I sprinkled them with while discovering that my wok has decided (without consulting me) that it no longer wishes to be non-stick.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Amazing Vegan Casserole (part 1)

That's what a vegan casserole looks like. No eggs, no milk, no butter - just amazing "fruit of the earth" goodness. The same way that vegan cookies and cupcakes fascinate me, so does this casserole, though it also inspires me.

Tonight's dinner was Chickpea Broccoli Casserole from VwaV. There are three things I remember about the first two times I made this:

1. How bizarre I thought it was, but how good Isa made it sound
2. How revolting my mother found it when I told her about it on the phone
3. How good it was the first time and how much better it was the second time

I mentioned when I provided my weekly menu that I had a few tricks up my sleeve for this third time. In addition to the delightful discovery that my food processor is much better at mashing chickpeas than I am, I found that this trick would really only be possible with Mr. CuisinArt's help. The recipe calls for 3 cans of chickpeas - this time, I subbed a can of cannellini beans for one can of chickpeas and it resulted in an even creamier, butterier taste. I didn't use nearly as much broth as the recipe called for, which resulted in this one being a little drier than last time. Even still, it was as tasty as ever and smelled so good!
Mine kind of fell apart in my zeal to get it out of the casserole and into my belly.
Mister's fared a little better than mine.

When I was at Whole Foods today, I did something I have never done before: I picked up a garnet yam. When I was little, I fell into the same trap I imagine most little girls fall into - if my daddy liked it, it must be good. So, until I grew some tastebuds, I followed my father in his love for canned candied yams and eggnog from a carton. I have since realized that eggnog is disgusting (probably more in thought than taste - just knowing what it's made of makes my stomach turn) and that there are probably better ways to eat a yam/sweet potato than soaked in brown sugar and out of a can.

I realize that yams and sweet potatoes are not actually the same thing, or even close, for that matter. Nevertheless, they are used interchangeably in most recipes which resulted in my ponderings. I don't know why, but I have recently developed an impressive desire to eat a yam or a sweet potato. A real one, one that I hand-selected at a market, took home, and cooked without sugar of any kind. I want to eat it as food, not dessert. The problem, however, is Mister's unadulterated hatred for this tuber, which without exception has caused me to substituted carrots where recipes called for sweet potatoes. So my plan is to roast it and let Mister decide if he wants to share with me. If not, I figure I can probably eat the whole thing by myself - it's not that big.

I have recently felt more adventurous than usual - I'm pretty sure I can blame it on VeganMoFo because all the other blogs I've been reading have really gotten my mind working. Also, my father sent me an email with a bunch of "famous" blogs about food, some vegan (VeganYumYum and some others were on there) and some decidedly not. I have come up with a list of things with which I am currently unacquainted (for the most part) but wish to know better:

1. Sweet Potatoes/Yams - I'll let you know how that goes.

2. Squash (specifically acorn or butternut) - My sister asked me for some butternut squash recipes because she participates in a CSA out in Arizona (Tucson) and she got a ton of butternut and doesn't know what to do with it. Neither do I. I made a butternut soup once and it wasn't terrible, but once again, Mister hates squash so we don't eat it, aside from the occasional zucchini.

3. Avocado - that Pasta della California recipe got me thinking...since I can't actually think of anything else to do with avocado, besides turn it into guacamole, and we're really not dip people, I'll probably just make that pasta again, but get a ripe avocado this time.

4. Brussels Sprouts - if anyone EVER told me I would eat these on purpose, I would have laughed my way to 6-pack abs. However, I've seen a ton of recipes sprouting up (yes, that was intentional) in magazines and my cookbooks, and when I stood in front of their bin today at WF, I had to admit, they are actually kind of pretty. Once again, it appears to be Isa winning me over to the dark side with awesome recipes for these little baby cabbages. Also, I remember my cousin going through a phase where she absolutely could not get enough of them, and she and I have very similar taste in food/diet. Besides, since I recently discovered that I enjoy big cabbages, I figure it's probably not all that different.

5. This weird-ass chocolate hummus spread - I have no idea why this is so appealing, but I really want to try it. Thanks, Dad.

6. Instant Coffee - not to drink, thank you very much. Anyone who knows me knows it's even a struggle for me to find happiness in pre-ground packages of coffee which is why I have a coffeemaker that not only can be programmed to wake me with my coffee, but also has the ability to grind big ol' beans immediately before brewing the coffee. Anyway, I want to bake with it. I've seen dozens of cookie, (cup)cake, and bread recipes calling for instant coffee, and I've never made them because I don't stock instant coffee because I think it's gross. Well, I did the best I could today and picked up International Coffee Suisse Mocha instant coffee. I really just couldn't bring myself to get regular - I have horrible memorymares about my dear mother drinking that Folgers crap when I was a kid.

Anyway, I'll let you know how the sweet potato/yam thing goes...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Praise Seitan!

Yes, I said it. Praise Seitan. I remember the first time I had seitan - it was in a Caribbean-style restaurant in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia called Azure. It's gone now, and that's a shame...I miss Azure - amazing grilled seitan, fantastic wine list, and a never-fail dessert menu. Mister and I went there for our first vegetarian Valentine's Day and went back whenever we could after that. It was, and remains the only restaurant in Philadelphia I would move my car to go to.

Don't get me wrong - Horizons is a very close second. In fact, it has two "edges." First, it is 100% vegan food - Azure was an omni-restaurant. Also, Horizons is only two and a half blocks from my home. There is no weather I can't walk through to get there.

All of this was actually necessary to show you exactly how happy I was about dinner tonight. I made the Jerk Seitan with Coconut Rice from Vegan With a Vengeance. I think Isa has officially replaced dear Martha in my affections. I think I've mentioned before that I really was not even remotely adventurous in my food choices in my younger years. I've generally attributed my willingness to try new things in adulthood to my vegetarian diet, but upon further reflection, I think it is my husband's influence. His sisters, my best friends, who arranged our whole courtship it seemed, swore that my husband could eat worms and they would look delicious. It's true - there is something in the way he eats that makes you want to eat what he's eating. I think even if he and I had never become vegetarians, he would have opened my eyes to a whole new world of flavors and foods. Maybe I would have even eaten whatever meat they usually marinate in jerk spices...

Last time I made this, I didn't have the patience to let the seitan marinate in the seasonings, so I just sauteed it in oil and made a sauce with the marinade ingredients. I can't remember ever being more wrong about something. Tonight, I found the patience to marinate the seitan almost as long as I was supposed to and I can't even describe the difference it made! The seitan was so tender, juicy, and flavorful. Also, serving it on top of the Coconut Rice made a great flavor combination - the subtle sweetness of the coconut milk contradicting and calming the very intense flavor of the marinade-turned-sauce coating the peppers and carrots and seitan. It also smelled great!
On another note, today was a sleepy day - it was rainy and miserable and Saturday. I got up when Mister went to work but couldn't get moving for hours. I didn't get everything done that I wanted to do, but tomorrow is another day and since it will be nicer out, I will feel more inclined to be productive since a lot of my errands involve outside-time. I did get the menu done, though:

1. Chickpea Broccoli Casserole from VwaV. Yes, it was on last week's menu - I didn't get to it because I do not have broccoli. I still don't know how I missed that. Grocery shopping is on my To Do list tomorrow.

2. Garlicky Spaghetti with Beans and Greens from the August Cooking Light. I dare you to click that link and NOT want to eat the picture.

3. Stir-Fried "Beef" with Broccoli and Bell Peppers from the July Cooking Light. The recipe calls for real dead cow, but I want to try those beef stirfry strips by LightLife again - even in a stirfry this time!

4. Chickpea, Tomato & Spelt Soup from Body+Soul, an imprint of Martha Stewart's little universe. This looks like such an innards-warming soup...I squirreled the recipe away a while ago and I've just been sitting on it. This last week of October seems a good time for its debut. Body+Soul is a magazine I keep going back and forth on - on the one hand, I love Martha and I want to subscribe to a Martha magazine, but MS Living would break my heart with almost daily reminders that my home is too miserably small to entertain loved ones. On the other hand, though there are a lot of uplifting and helpful (think stress-relief) articles, there's also a decent amount of fruitiness going on. Also, I think this Dr. Weil character is a fraud. If he's not a fraud, he is way too fruity for my tastes. I just hate when celebrities "adopt" a pet doctor - I think it's Oprah's fault..."Dr." Phil ruined it for everyone.

5. Chickpea Stew with Fried Polenta from The Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook. I don't know what made me think of it, but I remember nostalgically looking back on the first time I made this, over the warmer months, and thinking how awesome this would be as a late October meal. It's been a while, too, since I've sunk my teeth into my beloved polenta. Speaking of favorites - I get to have my pillow-soft polenta with it's crisp outer layer, drenched and warmed in a blender sauce made by my food processor.

In the midst of grocery shopping and donating and organizing and cooking tomorrow, I also plan to get some baking in, so stay tuned!
(you can just see the anticipation in his eyes, can't you?)

1 curry, 2 curry, old curry, new curry!

In her witty introduction to the curry I made last night from VwaV, Isa makes the bold statement that she pretty much lives off of curry. In the same way that I could be perfectly happy to eat soup/stew for every autumn and winter dinner, I think Mister would be in paradise if he could just eat three things:
1. pizza
2. coffee
3. curry

Every time he smells the sauteing spices that start each curry recipe, I can feel his heart soaring all the way from the kitchen. By the time he finds words, they usually sound like this:

"Oooh, that smells goooooood." And then we play the "is it done yet" game.

This week was really a Total Grocery Fail. I was so proud of myself for "finishing" my grocery shopping on Wednesday night until tonight, when I realized I was lacking one crucial ingredient from each of the three recipes left on my menu.

1. Red Lentil Coconut Curry - missing cauliflower
2. Jerk Seitan - missing lime (and I figure it's important since there are 3 Tbsp of lime juice in the recipe)
3. Chickpea Broccoli Casserole - missing....broccoli. I'm a dumbass.

So I used my rainy 45-minute drive home to brainstorm a plan of action. It came down to how easily and where I found parking. If I ended up near Essene, I would stop in for all three of my missing ingredients (or at least one). Well, I didn't, and I actually forgot about my lofty goals by the time I found parking. Fortunately, I had come up with an alternate brainstorm.

I almost completely improvised and said "forget this's caused me nothing but heartbreak!" Then I settled down and started chopping my carrots for the Red Lentil Coconut Curry while the rice cooked. By the way - just a few shakes of turmeric in the water turned the rice a gorgeous shade of sunshine-in-a-bowl:
How happy is that? Seriously? This meal ended up being very photogenic.

Anyway, I decided the cauliflower wasn't that important, so I substituted about 1/2 cup of frozen edamame and then I diced one Gala apple. I absolutely love fruit showing up in strange places. It turned out really well, and the taste of the apple blended with the rest of the vegetables better than I thought it would. Also, the original recipe calls for 1/2 tsp of honey, but when I was at Whole Foods on Wednesday night, I got me some Agave Nectar, so I used that instead.
you want it - admit it.
All food should be this pretty.

Despite all of my posts being about what fascinating, colorful, and scrumptious things Mister and I had for dinner, I think my favorite meal of the day is actually breakfast. I think that's because my cold-weather breakfasts are just so darn tasty! I am having a ton of fun finding new ways to cook my oatmeal. Admittedly, I have to figure out what breakfast adventure I want to have the night before, since I can't function in the morning, much less think.

A few days ago I cooked the oatmeal in unsweetened soymilk, then crushed two Sweetzel's Spiced Wafers into it and mixed it up thoroughly. That was awesome. I actually have yet to make my "standard" oatmeal - cooked in a half & half mixture of apple juice and water with a good sprinkling of cinnamon. Here's what I've done so far:

1. Soymilk & dried cranberries
2. Soymilk & maple syrup
3. Water/Soymilk & Chocolate Caramel truffles
4. Water & maple syrup
5. Pineapple juice & coconut
6. Soymilk & spiced wafers
7. Water & peanut butter
8. Water & Dark Chocolate Dreams

Number Nine happens tomorrow; when I was at WF, I was inspired to pick up a bag of frozen mixed berries, and I have a fantasy where I drop about 1/2 a cup of them into my little oatmeal pot in the morning with just a touch of agave nectar and let them sizzle until they get a little juicy and goopy. Then I stir in my 1/2 cup of oats and let them soak up some of the sweet before slowly pouring my 3/4 cup of soymilk in and letting everything simmer gently for a few moments while I pour my coffee. Mmm...doesn't that sound like a tasty breakfast?

I'm also considering spending a little time this weekend making myself a "just add soymilk" pancake mix, because I have seen too many pictures of absolutely luscious looking pancakes, and I think the berries would also make a delightful little compote to spoon over the pancakes. I just happen to have a copy of Vegan Brunch that is chock-full of such recipes...

Friday, October 23, 2009

I heart curries...and a few other things

Tonight I made the Chickpea & Spinach Curry from Vegan With A Vengeance. It's so good. We've had it before and the minute the ginger and garlic hit the olive oil and that satisfying sizzle reaches Mister's ears at the same time their aroma wafts to his nose, he's a happy hubby.
This tasty curry served as inspiration for my Savory Spinach dish. Follow the link if you want to see adorable pictures of Angst eating his spinach.

While I was cooking, I remembered a few other "favorite" things. I'll label these as Kitchen Toys I Can't (okay, can, but don't want to) Live Without

1. My Saute Pan. It's too small, generally, and it never lets the tofu spread out enough to get the full effect of Black-Bottom tofu, but I love it anyway. It's not as cumbersome as my big pot that is usually reserved for soup and pasta, but it gives the same surface area, and the straight sides contain food better than the sloped sides of my same-sized skillet.

2. My Martha Stewart Mixing Bowls. I just got them not too long ago, but honestly, I knew I needed them and now that I have them, I can't figure out how I got by before. I seem to recall struggling with a heavy glass bowl to sloppily fill my muffin cups or cake pans while hoping I didn't drop it. Besides making cupcake dividing more easy, they provide a more adequately sized Collector of Chopped Veggies, and when I line one with a plastic bag from a vegetable I'm using, they make great "waste bins" for pepper cores and tomato seeds and carrot tops, etc.

3. My Food Processor. Does this really require an explanation? Okay....sauces, spreads, "ricotta," dough, batter, soups - shall I continue?

4. My CoffeeMaker. Another appliance I feel defies explanation, but here it goes: there are few smells that make me happier than freshly brewed coffee (those smells are usually related to freshly baked bread or goodies). Also, I am a zombie in the morning. Ask my mother - it's a miracle I can make it to the kitchen without hurting myself (I do usually smash into the hallway walls on my way, though). So, there is something absolutely magical about surviving the short walk to the kitchen to find that my happy little coffeemaker has taken the initiative to have my coffee brewed and waiting for me. Again - I do not know how I lived before a programmable coffeemaker.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

use it or lose it, endgame

Despite it being No-Cook-Wednesday, I couldn't bring myself to eat leftovers for dinner tonight. Truth be told, I really hate reheating pasta. I don't especially like it cold-right-outta-the-fridge, either. Leftover pasta is great for work-lunch because I don't have an insulated lunchbox or anything, so by the time I have my lunch, it's about room temperature - kind of like pasta salad. I can dig that.

Taking a cue from Urban Vegan, I decided to peak inside my fridge and see what needed to be used up tonight or thrown away tomorrow. It really just kind of came together as I went, but I was very pleased with the end result. Mister came home from work about halfway through the cooking process and said, "What are you making?" Pause. "I don't know?"

When I was younger, I was very happy to eat side dishes as a meal: rice, corn, carrots, those weird little Knorr just-add-water side dish packets. Now that I enjoy cooking actual meals, I struggle to add side dishes. I thought about all of this while I was cooking tonight, and it dawned on me that the little mishmash of almost-dead food I was throwing together in my skillet could accidentally be my first side dish recipe! I can feel my cookbook taking shape...
Something else to add to my favorites post: I love eating things with chopsticks. An entire section of my silverware caddy is devoted to chopsticks.

And since Mister wants to know what it is, I have tentatively dubbed it...
Pear & Carrot "Fried" Rice
here is a very rough recipe, to be refined at a later date:
1 ripe pear, diced
1 large carrot, diced
a couple handfuls of frozen edamame (for protein)
about 1 cup cold, cooked Jasmine rice
about 1/2 cup vegetable broth, plus a little extra to deglaze the skillet while sauteing
pinch of salt

heat a large skillet on medium-high heat, then add pears and let them sizzle a little. When they begin to release their juices, stir and add carrots. Allow to cook on medium for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. If too much sticking occurs, add a Tbsp of broth. Once carrots and pears are crisp-tender, add edamame. After about a minute, when the edamame is slightly less than frozen, add the rice and broth and stir well. Lower heat to lowest setting and allow to simmer until broth has been absorbed by the rice and the rice is tender. Add chopsticks and enjoy!

By the way - the Phillies just won the NLCS and the world is ending outside my window. You might want to stay off the road.

one shop stop

So, this past weekend really interfered with my plans to buy the ingredients necessary to make a week of, what do you call them? Oh, right - dinners. Saturday was a total loss because I'll be honest - there was no part of me that wanted to trudge 5 blocks through the rain to Whole Foods, then 5 blocks back in heavier rain, only to put away the groceries and splash my way up to Superfresh and back with whatever I didn't get at WF.

My delightful evening with my sister went much later than either of us had planned (funny how that can happen when you don't see someone in half a year), so I was up late and was still sleep deprived from an energy-sapping week at work, so Sunday started much later than I had intended. Late enough, in fact, that I only had time to make the cupcakes before we ran late getting to my parents' house (good thing I already had, well, most of the ingredients). By the time we got home from there, we were way too many innings into a championship series featuring our Hometown Heroes, the Phightin' Phillies, for me to safely venture past the rows of bars to get groceries (any stories you've heard about Philadelphia sports fans becoming irrationally violent in their victory celebrations are absolutely true). So I cooked dinner with what remained of our food and figured I'd get groceries after work on Monday.

I keep forgetting how much I hate to do anything after work any day of the week. I also forgot (AKA was completely unaware since I don't actually follow any sports) that the Phillies were playing a home game. So I convinced Mister to run up to Superfresh with me so I could get stuff to make dinner - it was worth his while - he got some tasty breakfast treats. I probably should have just gotten everything on that side of my list while we were there, but I just couldn't convince myself to put out that kind of effort. Also, the less time we are in the store, the less time Mister has to wander off and find some other complete waste of calories to bring home with us. So I got the ingredients to make Peppered Pasta and knew I would have to deal with the same issues tonight.

Tonight's dinner was Pineapple-Tamari Braised Seitan, primarily because it required the least number of items to be plucked from bins and shelves at WF. Again, I thought I probably ought to get everything on my list and save myself the trouble of going out again tomorrow, when the phreaking Phillies play what could be the last game in the series if they win...but I didn't have any coins for the meter-kiosk thing, so I just ran in, grabbed a pepper, a bunch of asparagus, 2 boxes of seitan (they were on sale!), and a carton of hazelnut Silk creamer, else no coffee for me tomorrow morning. I tried that on Monday and it did not go well.

I didn't get a parking ticket, if you wondered.

There is a part of me that thinks it's charming to go to the store each evening to get "fresh" groceries to turn into a meal. There's a realistic part of me that knows that there are specific days stores receive shipments, so honestly, it'll either sit on their shelves or mine, but it's not like someone walked out back and picked the pepper right before I came in tonight. By the way, I was completely surprised and very happy to find healthy looking asparagus this late in fall. I didn't have time to see where it came from, but it must be nice there!

I made tonight's dinner before, so I won't go into much detail, but it occurred to me that my food photography skills have probably improved since I last made this dish, so I will share pictures. If you want the recipe, go here.
I just peeked back, and yes, these are much better (more appetizing) pictures than that first set.

Monday, October 19, 2009

a few of my favorite things

Raindrops on kittens and whiskers on roses...

I was thinking earlier today about the number of times I've posted about some new ingredient or kitchen toy and said it was my new favorite thing: polenta and miso come to mind. But trust me - for every time I've said something was my favorite thing, there were at least four other things I didn't say that about to prevent repetition (and the obvious fickleness of having a different favorite thing almost every night).

Because I don't really have any fun stories about dinner (other than more proof that I shouldn't ever take Mister food shopping with me, no matter how much I think I need his help), I will share a list of my current favorite things:

1. Blender sauces. Seriously - does it get easier? I don't think so. Grab some of this and some of that, throw it into a blender/food processor and press play. Within seconds you have a smooth or chunky, velvety or gritty, voluminous sauce. I love that.

2. My "new" kitchen. I have my happy place and to my great delight, it is organized and efficient just like the pictures in the IKEA catalog. Where are my Martha Stewart mixing bowls? Oh! They're right here, on the top shelf - I don't have to push anything aside or give myself a pinched nerve trying to pry them out of the dark corner they ended up in when I needed something else they were hiding. They're just there - out in the open and waiting to be filled with flour and spices and soymilk and turn them into tasty treats! Where is my chili powder? Did it get pushed over the edge of the counter by Tarragon and Rosemary? No! It's right here, neatly corralled in its little tray on the second shelf of my kitchen trolley! To say I've found bliss could very well be understating the situation.

3. Making cupcakes. This had to make the list, but it's funny, because until Isa and Terry had to go put out their silly cupcake book, I NEVER made cupcakes. Seriously - never. I don't like icing! But I have learned that a cupcake without icing is a muffin, and decorating my little sweet-treats is part of the fun!
So far:
Chocolate-Covered Banana
Chocolate Cream Cheese (not vegan, but easily veganized)
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Pineapple Right-Side-Upcakes
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip
and coming soon - Mint Chocolate and Chai Latte (saved the best for last - who am I kidding? It's only October!)

4. Angst, curled up on my dining chair because it's the only thing that hasn't moved. He's so cute, all snuggled up against my coat or scarf, leaving me fuzzy bits of kitty love (to pull out of my lipstick after I wrap my scarf around my neck, heedless of the fur flying).

I could probably keep going, or even divide into sub-favorites, like my favorite cookbook, favorite cooking tool, favorite thing to listen to while I'm cooking dinner or baking, favorite smells...but I don't want to bore you (or run out of things to write in future posts).

I did remember something today. Mister became a vegetarian about 8 months before I did. I didn't understand his crazy ways and one night, after a few unsuccessful attempts to go out for dinner ending in his apartment because there was nothing he could eat anywhere nearby, I asked him to help me understand why he was being so inconvenient. He shared with me all of the information he had come across that led to his decision and we even had the "how much difference can one person not eating meat make?" discussion. The end of it (I thought) was me saying "okay, well, that's great - you keep doing that and I will respect your decision... but it's not for me." About two months later was when I became a vegetarian. In those two months, my mind muddled through the seeds of thought Mister had planted there and as time passed, they began to germinate and take root and eventually, took over. There was one specific moment in time when everything came crystal clear to me and I said, "me, too."

The reason I thought of that is because I fear I've done it to myself again with this whole honey thing. I can't get it out of my mind. It's not like I think about it all the time, but I do think of it frequently, as though my mind's mouth is turning it over and tasting it from every angle. Just like my slow, thoughtful conversion to a meatless diet, the more I think of honey and bees and nature and exploitation and general thievery, the more I begin to understand the argument that honey is not vegan. I'm sorry if my harping on this is getting old, but I really want to understand where I stand on this. Here are my most recent thoughts:

Honey is bee food. It's not meant for us to eat. Honestly, that's the beginning and the end of any logical discussion. Bees collect what they need to to make the honey and they make it to feed themselves and the rest of their family. That is such a simple fact to overlook that it completely escaped me, I think. Because honey is so widely available with shelves full of different flavors (clover, orange blossom, wildflower, etc), we believe bees make honey for us to eat it without even realizing that we think so. Truth be told, though, even when you're talking about factory-farmed honey bees who technically ARE making the honey just so we can eat it, the bees don't know that - they are under the unfortunate impression that they are saving up food for the winter. There have been a lot of recent studies showing how beneficial honey-consumption can be for humans with health issues - eating local honey can alleviate allergy issues, for example. We never stop to think, though, that the same nutrients that make honey so good for us are what make it the only reliable food source for bees through the winter.

Another thing that struck me about honey comes from knowledge acquired through my workplace. Honey is a low glycemic food. For those who don't know, the glycemic index measures how quickly food is digested and how that digestion impacts insulin production. Food high on the glycemic index (candy, white bread, soda, etc) is digested quickly, sending a shock of sugar into the blood, causing a spike in insulin production - this is the "sugar rush" you get, but there is always that crash, leaving you feeling without energy and probably hungry again. On the other hand, foods low on the glycemic index digest more slowly, releasing sugar into the blood stream over time, resulting in a pretty steady level of insulin production. These foods stay with you longer, giving your body time to glean maximum nutrition from what you've eaten and helping you to actually feel satisfied for a longer time. Honey as food for bees to eat through the dead months + honey as a low glycemic food = lightbulb going off over my head about exactly how WRONG it is to replace carefully crafted honeycombs with a sugar-water mixture - it's not even close to the same nutritionally. Hopefully, you understood everything I wrote about the glycemic index. If not, just ask.

Anyway, this is the point where I remember that knowledge is dangerous. Once I research something and seek to understand it, it lodges itself in my brain and forces me to see the thought process through to its inevitable conclusion. It kind of worries me that I've only cracked the surface of topics related to veganism that I want to cover this month...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

a short fall off the vegan wagon

Today was a vegan fail. Obviously, it didn't happen on purpose, but I want to start out by restating a point I made at the beginning of VeganMoFo - I am not actually vegan, I'm just trying to be as vegan as possible this month for authenticity and to see if I could commit myself to this lifestyle. This may come off as a cop out or an excuse for not "sticking to my guns" today, but there was a lot on the line. There was definitely a point where I knew I had to give up for just a moment, but tomorrow is a new day. I'll start from the beginning, where initially, our heroine (me) battled temptation and won...then the deterioration.

Today, Mister and I were going over to my parents' house to see my sister, meet my baby cousin, and see the rest of my (little) family. My mother had asked me to make cupcakes and next weekend is my dear father's birthday, so I made Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. There was a bit of hemming and hawing, though, as I started to gather the ingredients and discovered that I did not have 1/3 cup of oil, nor did I have a full cup of sugar. While I weighed the merits of Earth Balance buttery spread (cold) and vegetable shortening (room temperature), I also tried to figure out what to do about the sugar situation. I'll admit - my very first thought was to substitute honey, because I have been in the habit of using honey in my baked goods. Given my current internal conflict about honey, I ended up using the half cup of sugar I did have on hand and adding 1/4 cup of maple syrup. I figured the maple would complement the pumpkin and cinnamon anyway. So, battle #1, I win.

We took the cupcakes (and my sister's tent) to my parents' house, which was a veritable shrine to cows (and not in the way PETA would endorse). There was a big bowl of provolone cheese cubes on the table, next to red pepper-encrusted asiago wheel. I stuck to the red pepper hummus and bruschetta. The light meal included roast beef and melted cheese sliders and spinach-cheese squares. My mother has worked very hard over the past several years to accommodate my wacky decisions. I am very sure of two things: I do not think I shared my October Vegan Experiment with her, and I do not think it occurred to her that cheese is not vegan because we have never really discussed what it means to be vegan. So, I could not turn down these spinach cheese squares that she made because my husband and I don't eat meat. She also made a very tasty pumpkin spice cake and went through the trouble of whipping her own cream to put on top... I cannot allow my mother to do such a great job without recognizing that.

After a trafficky, 35-mile ride home, Mister and I were ready for a more substantial dinner, so I set about making the Ginger Cakes with Garlic Vegetables.
It was so good and look how pretty and colorful it is!

I've already posted the recipe here, so if you like what you see and would like to try it, go for it! I made a couple of changes this time, upon which I will expound now.

I used MorningStar Farms Asian Veggie Patties this time, instead of the Ginger Teriyaki veggie cakes I used last time. They are wonderfully flavorful and spicy, and when you cook them on the skillet, they get all crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. They pack only 100 calories per patty and only 4g fat with the 7g protein. So far so good! Then we take a closer look at the ingredients and find egg whites, whey powder, and a bunch of sneaky ways animal products find their ways into vegetarian food. So, that was the second vegan fail, though it was really quite by accident.

When I started to saute the veggies for dinner, I was awestruck by how vivid and beautiful the rainbow colors of the vegetables were, so I took a picture!
broccoli and peppers and carrots, oh my!

As I may have mentioned the first time I made this, I am falling in love with miso. It is the most delightful combination of subtle and flavorful. I could eat miso rice all by itself. I will most likely be experimenting with miso gravy in the near future, as I have a big happy tub of brown rice miso in my fridge right now.

I'll leave you with one last picture of my very tasty dinner - it kind of looks like a star. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

catching up and looking ahead

Ordinarily, I save my blogging for after dinner has been cooked, eaten, and cleaned up...for obvious reasons, I would think. Tonight is different, though. I'm not sure I'll be making dinner, since Mister ate a very late lunch and I'm actually going out tonight! My sister is in town from Arizona and we will be braving the cold, nasty, rainy weather to hang out and get a drink or two.

Tomorrow, the whole family (my side, anyway) will be getting together for a late lunch soiree so everyone can see my sister while she's here - only a few short days. My mother, having seen all the tasty cupcakes I've been posting lately, has requested that I make a batch and bring them. Depending on my mood, I may make two! If I am able to make it to the grocery store before we go tomorrow, I may also make and bring some other fun tasty treats. Because my dear mother reads my blog, I'll be keeping mum (ha ha, get it? Yes, that was stupid.) regarding exactly what I'm making so I can surprise her tomorrow.

While the rain kept me inside earlier today, I kept busy drinking copious amounts of coffee (and dunking a few Sweetzel's Spiced Wafers as well) and flipping through my cookbooks. I was on a dual mission - plotting the coming week's menu, of course, but also looking for fun finger foods to bring to my parents' home tomorrow. I think I have it figured out - I have my grocery list made, but the gross weather and the fact that I had to work a little today prevented me from actually using it until tomorrow. Here's a preview of the week's coming attractions (sorry - I have movies on my brain):

1. Chickpea Broccoli Casserole from Vegan With A Vengeance. This is a great recipe Isa created to prove you don't need eggs to make a casserole. I've made it a few times - the first time it was palatable, but a little dry and chunky. The second time I used my food processor to help with the chunkiness issue (it wasn't necessarily a good chunky) and it worked magnificently. I have a few tricks up my sleeve for this third making - I'll let you know when we get there.

2. Jerk Seitan on Coconut Rice both recipes from VwaV, too. Usually, I serve the coconut rice with the Pomegranate BBQ Tofu, but I can imagine the flavors complementing the Jerk spices as well. I made this a long time ago and I recall an enthusiastic seal of approval from Mister.

3. Chickpea & Spinach Curry also from VwaV. I guess it's just an Isa-week. By the way, everything I intend to make for my family tomorrow also comes from Isa's brain. Anyway, evidently this week's menu is kind of chickpea-heavy, but this recipe is just too damn good to skip. There's also something inherently satisfying about squeezing the juice out of whole tomatoes and then tearing them apart with your bare hands after a long day in the office.

4. Red Lentil Coconut Curry - I made this for Mister's Birthday Curry in August. It's probably okay to repeat by now. I went a little crazy with the coconut milk for a while there, but after a little break, we're good to go!

5. Pineapple-Tamari Braised Seitan - well, now that I have that whole, big, brand new bottle of Tamari, it would really be a shame not to reprise this dish, wouldn't it?

6. Peppered Pasta

Well, I'm off for now - Sister will be here in about an hour!

a bun in the oven

Did I give you a heart attack, Mom?

No buns in my figurative "oven" - let me get that out of the way immediately.

I made my first ever vegan biscuits and I'm still high off of how well they came out. I ended up doing a kind of hybrid between Isa's Herbed Whole Wheat Biscuits from Vegan Brunch and Sarah's Easy Biscuits from How It All Vegan. By the way, I still think that is one of the most clever names for a book ever. There were three things about this recipe that amazed me:

1. watching the cider vinegar turn soymilk into buttermilk was simultaneously awesome and stomach-turning.

2. with just the right amount of ingredients, a dough formed and separated itself from the bowl, as well as the spatula, quite easily!

3. they really, really tasted like (whole wheat) buttermilk biscuits! It blew my mind. They were fun looking, don't get me wrong, but I really did not expect them to be this good - perfectly crisp and crunchy on the outside and light, puffy, and soft inside.
They kind of look like rocks, since they were drop biscuits, not cut. When I broke my first one open, there was a fabulous little puff of good. Another neat thing was that it seemed like the whole wheat flour made the biscuits a little sweeter, even though there was no sweetener - just thyme. By the way - I don't know if I just got lucky with my whole wheat flour, but it's very hard to sift because flakes of wheat stay on top of the little grindy-wheels. Irritating, but wholesome, I guess.

Anyway, I served my happy little biscuits with chunky, steamy, savory bowls of French Lentil Soup with Thyme and Tarragon from Veganomicon.
I still love this soup! It smells so good while it's simmering, and the length of time it takes to simmer is about the length of time it takes me to babble about some mundane but amusing parts of my day to Mister, make biscuits, and clean up. If you'd like to read more of my raving about just how good this soup is, and how you should make it and eat it and never eat anything else ever again because there's just no need click here or here.

There was one thing that was different and special about tonight's making of this heavenly soup: I used up a sprig of genuine home-grown lemon thyme, given to me by my previously mentioned generous colleague. It added a neat flavor to the soup, though I must admit it didn't really stand out against the generous helping of tarragon (my new favorite herb) and the savory smokiness of Hungarian paprika. I could definitely taste the difference, though. Surprisingly, this was also my first time cooking with fresh thyme.

In case you were wondering, once I got absorbed in my chopping and sauteing and sifting and plopping, I was able to ignore the utter disaster that someone else might refer to as my living room. Hopefully, this will get fixed tomorrow, because I won't be able to live like this for very long...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Angst hates ghosties, too

A serious cold snap hit Philadelphia out of a clear blue sky (literally). It was absolutely gorgeous throughout September and the first half of this month. In the course of just 24 short hours, the average daily high dropped 20 degrees. I'm sitting here listening to two distinct sounds - the wind howling against the windows and anything else that will help it cry like a banshee* and Angst, scarfing down his dinner so that a) I will give him more food before we go to bed and b) because he's safe from the ghosties as long as Mister and I are up to protect him. Once we go into the bedroom and shut the door, he will be at the mercy of the terrifying sounds outside the window - who knows if a ghostie will find its way in? I hear they like to eat kitties.

(*banshee reference, before I forget - has anyone else seen "Darby O'Gill and the Little People"? I can remember my sister and I being terrified in a way that words cannot describe every time the banshee made her awful appearance.)

Anyway, today was raining, windy, gray, and colder than it's been in many moons. The high was in the low 40s and it took all day to hit it, just to sink quickly back into the upper 30s. When I got out of my car tonight, a huge gust of wind tried to catch my umbrella and help me take flight. Pause - quick story: When I was a senior in high school, I was a big dork - I was the captain of the flagline in the marching band. At Homecoming, the band director thought it would be a nice touch to have me stand on the football field, holding a HUGE American flag at attention, flanked on each side by the captains of the rifle squad. Great idea, except that we were in a great valley, which enhanced the ability of wind to make a flying apparatus out of the flag I was holding and it took three people to hold all 125 lbs of me down. Even then, I could feel my heels lifting up while the drill instructor applied firm pressure to my hips and the rifle captains anchored my elbows. Fast forward back to today - the point I'm trying to make with all this is to set up exactly how perfect the weather was for a soup dinner.

So naturally, we had Seitan Chow Fun from Vegan Express.
I wanted to make my happy Isa soup, but I really couldn't muster the energy to make the soup AND the biscuits and I didn't want the soup without the biscuits. Okay, I would happily eat the soup without the biscuits, but I would really like to have them, too. Besides, tomorrow is supposed to be even better soup weather and I'll probably need something labor-intensive to distract me from the mess Mister is going to make of our living room while I'm at work.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about the Seitan Chow Fun because I made it before and used up most of my words then. I want to talk about soy sauce. That's right, soy sauce. Actually, Tamari soy sauce.
This is the best stuff ever. When you open the bottle, take a sniff - it's almost like smelling wine to understand its complexities and different flavors. It's not like your normal, store-brand or Kikkoman soy sauce - this is some serious soy sauce. Tamari is a traditional Japanese soy sauce, generally based on the fermentation of miso. It has a deeper, richer, and at the risk of sounding cliche, a more satisfying taste than regular soy sauce. Also, as an added bonus for any gluten-free friends, you can purchase wheat-free tamari.

I brought the bottle to the dinner table so Mister could add more to his chow fun if he wanted and after a thorough inspection of the bottle, including smelling its contents, he decided he was okay with it. After he read the (obvious) ingredients, he wondered aloud about whether there was a warning about soy for all the people who might sue over these things:
Indeed, there is. It's hard to read, but if you look hard you can make out "Allergen Information: This product contains soy and wheat ingredients."

Seriously? I mean, really? SOY sauce has soy in it? What's next? Wheat bread with wheat in it?