Thursday, December 30, 2010

miso bad at beans + chopsticks

I really need to stop doing that.  I mean, really, there are only so many times you can turn "miso" into a culturally insensitive pun before it's not funny anymore.  Or, maybe it was never funny and I'm too much like my father.  Regardless, I couldn't resist, so forgive me this one last time.

In case my wretched title didn't give it away, tonight's dinner was Miso Udon Stirfry with Greens and Beans from Appetite for Reduction.  I was a little hesitant by the time I started prepping because it seemed like a lot of work.  Somewhere in my pondering, though, it appears I started combining the ingredients lists for two separate recipes because after I had washed my plum tomatoes and pulled out the ginger, I realized they weren't a part of this recipe and back in their chilly home they went. 

Once I set about prepping the ingredients that actually are a part of the recipe, everything went pretty quickly.  Once again, I must attribute my new-found speed with my handsome new knives.  Whenever someone says "size doesn't matter," I've become convinced they don't know how valuable an extra couple of inches are.

I'm talking about my 6" utility knife.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

Anyway, I burnt the broccoli, just like Isa said to and laughed to myself about a memory it evoked: [put on your flashback glasses and watch the screen] Many, many years ago, between becoming a vegetarian and learning how to cook, I moved into my first apartment in the city all by myself.  It was a terrific apartment - about twice the size of the one I moved into with my husband (yes, logic took a vacation in that decision-making process), with a bigger kitchen and a designated area to be used for dining.  I relied pretty heavily on frozen broccoli and "stir-frying" it in an old aluminum skillet as part of one of the only dinners I could make: veggie lo mein.  One night, I was doing my best impression of "making dinner" for Mister and I and he had the nerve to interrupt the rapt attention I was paying to the broccoli to give me hugs and kisses.  In the moments that followed, I burnt the broccoli and did not recognize this could be spun into a culinary delicacy.

So, after I purposely burnt the broccoli tonight, without Mister's help, I sauteed the garlic and chard while the udon boiled, and then completely forgot to steal a 1/2 cup of the pasta water to mix with the miso until I was watching the steam rise as I was pouring it down the sink.  Oh well.  This is another one of those things that always happens: If I make a fast-paced meal, like a stirfry, and especially if that meal includes broccoli (for some reason), I will inevitably forget something important and end up slowing myself down as a result.

I had two moments which gave me pause.  The first was the addition of the black beans.  I thought to myself, "how is this going to work?" while glancing at the table I set with chopsticks.  The second moment was when I was whisking the newly heated 1/2 cup of water with the 1/3 cup of miso and noticing how thick the sauce was.  As I poured it over the udon, beans, and greens, I wondered if I was missing something - tamari, oil, something.  I couldn't believe the entire "sauce" was just miso dissolved in water...but it was.  And it was delicious.

And Mister and I both had a pile of beans at the bottom of our bowls, because beans and chopsticks do not match.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

at the root of reduction

One of the things I have really enjoyed about being off from work (besides not being at work) is the almost unlimited time I've had to mess around in my kitchen.  Honestly, the only way my kitchen capers could have been more fulfilling this week would have been if I was playing with all my new toys and new recipes in guessed it - new kitchen!  All good things in time...

I actually started my day with a light breakfast - multi-grain toast with Earth Balance and a sliced Rome Beauty apple - a little P!nk to get me moving, and then I showered and got dressed as though I was actually going to do something productive today.  And eventually, I did go food and toiletry shopping.  First, though, I had a wonderful late lunch with my sister and some Beaujolais.

We went to Mi-Lah because I want to take everyone there at least once and because Mister won't go with me.  My sister is not vegetarian, but she appreciates diverse food and has an open mind.  With this most recent trip, I have now dined there for Sunday Brunch, mid-afternoon lunch, and dinner.

I had a seitan-zucchini cheeseburger with sweet potato fries.  I'll admit, that burger looks less than appetizing...actually, it looks less than cooked, but when I bit into it, I was very happy.  The seitan they use would best be compared to chicken and although it's a little revolting to look at, it tasted fabulous.  The sweet potato fries are incredible and I'm not ashamed to say they were a big influence in my decision to order this platter.

Sister, recently infatuated with Pho, ordered just that, complete with slices of tofu and "ham."  It looks savory and comforting, doesn't it?  Perhaps Beaujolais was not the most fitting accompaniment to her Vietnamese hot pot, but she didn't complain.

We shared a delightfully overflowing bowl of miso-braised kale on the side.  I cannot get enough of this stuff and must figure out how to replicate it at home.

Speaking of home... upon returning there, I apprised Mister of Sister's and my gustatory exploits and then headed out to find things to fill our fridge.  It makes me ineffably sad that I only had to shop for four dinners because that means I'm halfway through my staycation and I am absolutely not prepared to return to work yet.  This point is kind of like my normal Saturday night, where I know I still have all of Sunday to relax and not be at work, but I'm already dreading Monday.

Anyway, I shopped for my abridged menu, completely selected from Appetite for Reduction which includes:

1. Miso Udon Stirfry with Greens and Beans

2. Red Lentil and Root Veggie Dal

3. Potato-Spinach Curry

4. Irish Stew with Potatoes and Seitan

Tonight, I made Red Lentil and Root Veggie Dal and it was a delicious inauguration to my new cookbook.  I have at least a dozen Dal recipes, but I pass them by, one by one, because I can't figure out how it's supposed to be a main dish; ordinarily, there is nary a vegetable to be found.  I was elated, upon perusing AfR to find a Dal recipe than incorporates not one, not two, but three vegetables - carrots, parsnips, and turnip/rutabaga.

It's not much to look at - I guess simmering for 30 minutes with red lentils will do that to you.  It smelled very pungent and tasted delicious.  I'm pleased to have found a good dal recipe, and best of all, it is extremely filling!  I served it over brown rice, which did a marvelous job of soaking up the extra broth.  I'll do a more thorough review of the book once I've made more recipes (but before I return to the chaos at work), but for now, let me encourage everyone who was the recipient of a giftcard this Christmas/Hannukah to head to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of Appetite for Reduction.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

'cuz I can

I wonder how many titles I've "stolen" from P!nk.  Despite the success that dinner was tonight, it's probably better to refrain from using one of her newest songs, "F**kin' Perfect." 

Thanks for the new CD, Mom!

Anyway...thanks once again to my opportunity to test for the Urban Vegan Part Deux (by the way, I'm just making these names up - there is no official title for the new book that I am aware of), our dinner was flavorful, time-consuming (in a good, slow-simmering kind of way), and a little off the wall.

Tonight, I made Chickpeas with Tomatoes, Eggplant, and Kale and served it on top of Rutabaga-Fennel Clapshot.

There are so many things to love about dinner tonight.  Mister and I are huge fans of mashed potatoes - we even ate a whole tub of those microwave-and-eat Country Crock mashed potatoes during our honeymoon...for dinner.  We ate a ton of junk food that week - that might have been one of our healthier indulgences.  In any case, we love mashed potatoes, so the clapshot was right up our alley.  As you can imagine, rutabaga was involved, which was primarily responsible for that lovely hue (no matter how much I want it to be from the Earth Balance).  It made for a lighter version of mashed potatoes.  I actually stole the idea of mashers as the starch base upon which dinner sat from Isa (yes, I did read Appetite for Reduction cover to cover on Sunday).

Although the fennel seeds look pretty cool, kind of like the mashed equivalent of rye bread, it was a little unsettling to bite into one in the midst of pillow-soft clapshot.  Aside from that, these are easily the creamiest Mashed Anything I've ever made.

The Chickpea dish was a decent bit of work, which I enjoyed since I got so many neat culinary toys for Christmas.  I'll tell you, I was holding my own alright before with my play knives, but with only a couple of days under my belt with my shiny, new knives, I am stunned by how much easier it is to prep.  I feel like a pro now and I didn't even realize I was struggling before.  I knew I needed to get better knives, but I had no idea what a huge difference they would make in the time it takes me to prep.

It was time-consuming, between the decent amount of chopping and the luxurious length of time it simmered in my brand new Le Creuset stockpot (LOVE!).  In retrospect, my saute pan would have been of adequate size to contain the ingredients, but I really wanted to use my new pot.

I hemmed and hawed a little bit before selecting this recipe for two reasons.  The first hesitation on my part is that I really don't like onions and Dynise, apparently, really does, since it seems this is the third recipe I've made by her that involved me confronting a member of the onion family I had previously avoided.  Today's sibling was Sweet Onion.  I got over my initial reticence by thoroughly pureeing the onion with a healthy amount of garlic until I could not distinguish one from the other.  It actually set up a sweet-n-savory scented base for the other components I would soon add.

If you even remember the title of this post, you're probably wondering by now just what the heck it has to do with anything.  Here comes your answer: the other ingredient I was a little worried about was the eggplant.  Mister really doesn't like eggplant.  I've fooled him into eating it and liking it before, but it would be a lot easier to work with "secret ingredients" if my kitchen had walls to block his curious glances.  Nevertheless, I did manage to sneak this:

into our dinner and into his belly without complaints.  I had to be sure it was undetectable, so I read the recipe at least three times to ensure that unless he saw it whole, he would never know it was in there.  Once I was assured of its roasted-pulpness, I went for it.  I've never roasted eggplant before, but I was amused by how the insides shrivel away from the skin (which is normally what gives it away).

So, why did I feed Mister eggplant, knowing that he doesn't like it?

'Cuz I can.

Monday, December 27, 2010

not first date food

I have the most delicious garlic breath right now.  Does anyone else enjoy the aftertaste in your mouth when you know you're breathing fire on anyone brave enough to stand near you?  I love the way garlic, especially raw garlic, lingers.  Fortunately, so does my husband.

Tonight's dinner consisted of two raw-garlic-heavy recipes I wanted to test for the upcoming sequel to The Urban Vegan.  I am so fortunate to have these sneak previews and feel forever indebted to Dynise for selecting me as one of her testers.  So far, I've tested five of her recipes and from what I can tell, there ought to be a waiting list when this puppy gets published!  The ones I chose to make tonight, though, take the vegan cake.

There is a complete shot of dinner.  Because the two recipes I tested tonight could both be appetizers, preludes to a main course, I decided to combine them and add a bowl of mixed Greek olives and hope Mister was in the mood for mezze.  The two delightful (and charmingly complementary) recipes I made were Gussied-Up Tabbouleh and Smoky Zucchini Bean Dip.

Due to the generally prohibitively expensive nature of fresh herbs, I don't use them very frequently.  One of my hopes/goals for my next home (or the one after that) is to have some space where I can plant at least an herb garden.  I would love to use fresh herbs more, but $2.50 for a cupful of mint is not my cup of tea.  Additionally, I'll admit, chopping approximately 2 cups worth of fresh herbs is not something I'm in the habit of doing, but it was much easier and more enjoyable than it's been in the past, thanks to my brand new Calphalon knife (thanks, Mom!).

Yes, I even took the care to garnish my tabbouleh with a pita wedge.  Can I tell you something?  This is the best tabbouleh I have ever eaten.  My husband hails from a first-generation Greek family.  I have raved about the tabbouleh from Cedars.  I don't like scallions, raw tomatoes, or mint in savory things.  This is a great example of that saying "the sum is greater than the parts," because I could not comprehend how amazing this tabbouleh is.  In her introduction to this recipe, Dynise writes that she made this frequently as a "young" vegetarian.  I can see why - I could see myself making a double portion of this on at least a bi-weekly basis throughout the warmer months and just scooping some out as desired.  

Don't let the sheer fabulousness of the tabbouleh distract you from the wonder that was our zucchini bean dip, though.  I can't tell you what all was in it (although I think some things should be obvious...), but I want to say that one of the ingredients and I have had our differences in the past, so I was a little nervous about its inclusion in this recipe.  I was faithful to the recipe, though, and just scrunched my eyes shut, wiggled my nose, and hoped that the other ingredients would make up for it.

They did.  I tasted the dip before putting it down in front of Mister and my eyes almost popped out of my head.  This dip is just bursting with flavor from various profiles - slightly nutty to the exciting bite of raw garlic (which is still dancing on my happy tongue).  I served it with pita, which doubled as scoops for the fork-disinclined Mister.  He happily dunked the wide end of the pita wedges into the dip, then used his offending fork to shovel some tabbouleh onto the pita and shoved the whole thing into his mouth.  He hasn't been eating much since he got sick, but he did a great job finishing off almost his whole bowl of tabbouleh and a decent bit of dip.  The recipe makes a ton - two generous cups - and if you were to buy the new book, make this, and take it to a party... people would be talking about you for days (in a good way)!  Because of the delicious snap of raw garlic, I think this dip would be most amazing when accompanied by sweet crudites, specifically, sliced red bell peppers and carrot sticks.

We'll try that tomorrow.  We're well past our first date.

baking in the witching hour

Some time over the summer, a friend helped me name my imaginary public access cooking show (which will result in unimaginable fame and wealth, eventually).  Because he couldn't believe how frequently I bake at night (probably 95% of the time), he suggested "Late Night Baking with Natalie K" but I think I prefer the title to this post.

Although I suppose there could be some debate over the exact time of the witching hour, my scones were safely baking as the clock struck midnight, foisting my baking adventures officially into tomorrow. 

Banana Chocolate Chip Scones

Let's build up to the scone/overinflated cookie story, though, shall we?

After a deeply satisfying night of sleep (the first of many, I hope), I wandered, sleepy-eyed and wanting coffee, into my kitchen.  Once I had gathered my wits and looked out the window, I was profoundly disappointed to see not a flake of snow floating gently down from the sky.  There was a light dusting on the street, but not at all what I was expecting.

Never fear, rapt readers - it did not take long for snow to join me in welcoming the day.  Before I poured my second cozy cup, little glittery flakes had begun their descent from the low, grey cloud cover to cold, black pavement.  This continued throughout the day and I watched giddily as the snow began to accumulate on sidewalks, cars, and my husband upon his return from Steve's Steaks, veggie cheesesteak in a brown bag, canister of lemonade mix under his arm.

It seemed fitting that the only item left on my menu (and by default, the only thing I had the ingredients to cook, which is why Mister went out for lunch) was Warm Chickpea Ragout with Swiss Chard, Carrots, and Harissa from Vegetarian Times: Fast and Easy.

The advantage to having such an extensive (and growing) cookbook collection is that I repeat dishes so infrequently that I'm [almost] always as pleasantly surprised as I was the first time I made something.  This was no exception.  The heat of the harissa is just right - it intensifies the flavors of the dish without traumatizing my tastebuds too severely (unless I accidentally inhale an unmixed dot of the stuff...then I choke and my eyes tear and Mister laughs at me... no matter how sick he is). 

I served it over what was left of the Coconut Rice I made with the Jerk Seitan oh-so-long ago.  Between the subtle sweetness of the rice and that which is coaxed out of the tomatoes as they were fire-roasted, the whole dish has a surprising but perfect undercurrent of dulce.  It balances the heat of the harissa and the creaminess of the chickpeas in a way that made me contemplate every single bite I took.  This, surely, is the road to mindful eating.

After dinner, the snow was still going strong, despite my newly kindled internal fire.  Every time I hear a plow or shovel outside, I want to chase away the one who wields it, screaming something insane like, "Leave my snow alone!"

Instead, I occupied myself by making these incredible scones.  VegNews directed me to the recipe and I thought it seemed very much like single-serving banana bread, so I jumped on it.  I was a little worried when I started plunking down the batter - I can't call it dough - it spread a little much for my comfort level.  In the end, they came out looking like huge banana-chocolate-chip cookies.  The texture is somewhere between a nice, soft, right-out-of-the-oven cookie and the top portion of a muffin.  Divine. 

I really shouldn't have another....should I?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

'twas a few minutes past Christmas

See, I already know that I won't finish this post until after midnight... with all the excitement, I got a late start.

What excitement, you ask?  Well, I got a bunch of sharp knives for Christmas - how's that?  It's supposed to snow tonight, so when I wake up tomorrow, there may be a decent bit of my favorite white powder on the ground.  In fact, we have a red weather advisory on, which impressed Mister enough for him to ask if we have enough food to last a couple of days.  Now I know he's delirious - even if we didn't, the city doesn't shut down for a foot of snow.  I know, because we got a lot more than that last winter and we never starved.

Just in case all that isn't exciting enough for you (really? you need more excitement than knives?), believe it or not, Santa brought me a new cookbook:

oh yes - Merry Christmas to me
My mother nearly had a heart attack when I told her the nature of the cookbook.  I did my best to avoid the D word (diet), but eventually, Mom figured it out and asked me why on earth I would want a cookbook like that when I obviously don't need to lose weight.  After promising I would eat double portions of everything I make from the book, I explained that I already own all of Isa's books and didn't want the weight-loss-oriented nature of this book to prevent it from joining its siblings on my shelf.

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and enjoyed whatever you did.  I certainly enjoyed the time I got to spend with loved ones over the last 36 hours.

The festivities began at my in-laws' home for Christmas Eve lunch.  Much laughter and food spread across the table and I didn't remember to photograph one darn plate of it.  For shame - it was as attractive as it was tasty.  We went home for a mid-afternoon "nap" and then met my parents-in-law at church for the candlelight service.

I learned something new from my FIL - "O Little Town of Bethlehem" was written in Philadelphia when a pastor, recently returned from a trip to the Holy Land, looked out over Rittenhouse Square (where the church is located) and thought it greatly resembled Bethlehem.  After church, we took advantage of the location and availed ourselves on the hospitality of Branzino, an intimate Italian BYOB about a half a block away.  We laughed and dined until 11, at which time they returned us to our humble home, landmarked by our tiny tree up in the window shining its little lights for all the people who were not wandering around our neighborhood.

After getting one of the first decent nights of sleep I've gotten in six weeks, I was still startled awake by my alarm.  Mister and I made it to the train just as it was arriving, and as we headed west, a gentle snow began to fall.  The train takes us through the Main Line of Philadelphian suburbs, so there were a few stops decorated for the holiday.

okay, it probably always looks like this, but I appreciated its red-n-greenness considering the whole Christmas color scheme

Arriving at my parents' home, I was ushered into the [2nd] living room the moment I removed my coat - they recently replaced the carpet and had it repainted.  It looks gorgeous, but especially with the 2nd Christmas tree (we've had two for years, a homey/cozy one and a more styled one), so I ran around the house snapping pictures of how pretty my mom made everything.

I'm a little sad that my piano has been relegated to that common role of displaying photos, but you have to admit, this scene could deck the pages of a home design/decor magazine.

dining room by sunlight

dining room at another angle, by "candlelight"

"the stockings were propped up against the fireplace with care"

our "real" tree, with our motley collection of ornaments
Martha Stewart, eat your heart out

Mom's Dickens Village

Of course, Angst's archnemesis was there, looking for trouble...

Coffee was brewed, muffins were eaten, presents were opened...
Wine was poured, hors d'oeuvres set out, and Mom and I made Kwanzaa Stew.
Bellies were filled, more wine was poured, and pictures...many, many pictures were snapped.  A few favorites:

pretty sister

me, Mom, sis

I think this is foreshadowing.  If you replace the recliner with a wooden rocking chair and put him on a sunny veranda somewhere, I see my dad in the future, in his retirement, rocking the Old Folks Sunglasses - you know, the ones that fit over your glasses.

In reality, he was watching something in 3D on his special new TV, just like Mom and Sis in this picture.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Friday, December 24, 2010

it's the most wonderful time of the year

And it has nothing to do with kids jingle-belling or people telling me to be of good cheer - in fact, that might only encourage me to tell someone where to put their good cheer.  I wouldn't mind some much mistletoeing, though...

No, it's the most wonderful time of the year, specifically 2010, because the last six hellish weeks have finally met their end.  I walked (actually, I ran) out of the building tonight armed with the incredible knowledge that I made it and now I get to relax.  I will be away from work for a delicious week and a half.

Speaking of delicious... I greeted my greatly anticipated vacation by cooking with champagne and drinking the rest.  I took a swig right from the little bitty bottle after measuring out what I needed for the Lemon-Champagne-Braised Baby Bok Choy, then realized that just because I'm not at work doesn't mean I have to abandon all class, so I poured the rest into a wineglass for my swigging pleasure.  One really ought not drink champagne directly from the bottle, no matter how small it is.

To accompany the bok choy, I made Pan-Seared Tofu with Basil-Balsamic Glaze.  I was pretty pleased with the way the flavors worked together and even more pleased that I found the energy to make such a fancy dinner on "my friday."

First, I wrapped my tofu in a fresh towel, placed a plate upside down on top of it and weighted it down with two of my favorite (and heaviest!) cookbooks.  After an hour, I unwrapped it, rewrapped it in a new towel, and replaced it beneath the books.  I have never pressed tofu so thoroughly in my life, but this is another recipe I'm testing and the author has requested that the recipe be followed precisely the first time, so I pressed it for two hours.  It all worked out, though, because the time it took to press the tofu let me unwind for the first hour, and then I spent the second hour prepping and cooking the bok choy.

Something I love about bok choy, especially baby bok choy, is that when you trim the bottom, it looks like a pretty pale green rose.  Those two beauties are posing with my single-serving champagne bottle.

Here is my pile of bok choy, pre-braising sauce.  In case you've ever wondered what 2 lbs of baby bok choy looks like, now you know.  Also, if you were wondering what kind of pan you would braise 2 lbs of bok choy in, the answer might not be your standard 9x13 - as you can see, it was nearly overflowing.  The leaves reduce a lot during braising, but it was a challenge to fit it all in while it was still raw.

While I was preparing the bok choy, I started marinading my tofu.  I flipped it probably four times, and when the bok choy had only about 10 minutes left of cooking, I preheated a cast-iron skillet and pan-seared those little suckers for about 3-5 minutes on each side.  They developed an attractive, dark crust around the outside of the tofu and the basil stuck on pretty tenaciously.

Mister had some pretty mixed reactions.  I kind of thought that might happen, so as we sat down, I reminded my poor, tired, cranky (but relieved) self that I didn't make the recipe for him.  I made it because I thought it would be fun and I enjoyed the process.

Turned out he liked the bok choy just fine, which is funny, since I thought that would be what he didn't like.  He did comment that the amount of lemon might be overwhelming for someone who wasn't expecting it or who didn't like lemon, but we liked it just fine.

He wasn't crazy about the tofu.  I liked it, but I could see his point - despite the marinating time, it seemed like the tofu just didn't absorb much of it.  The glaze was nice, but there was too much bland, squishy tofu in between.  I like the marinade, so I do want to try this again in the future, but I'm going to suggest to the author that the tofu would be better if it was sliced more thinly so it would end up a little more firm and crispy.