Wednesday, February 10, 2010

my brain: use it or lose it

It is Still snowing in Philadelphia. This is now officially the snowiest winter on record - all we needed from this snowfall (which started around 7 pm yesterday and is STILL going strong at 10 minutes to midnight today) was 9.5 inches, but current estimates put total accumulation at 14 inches in Philadelphia, more in outlying suburbs. That's 14 inches on top of the 28.5 we got over the weekend. I haven't seen a plow yet and while that is fortunate for my poor little snow-covered car and what remains of its paint, it doesn't exactly fill me with optimism about the condition of the streets I am supposed to drive on tomorrow to go to work. Even when the streets were plowed on Saturday night/Sunday morning, it was still a slippery mess.

Since there was already an inch of super-fast accumulation when I got home from work last night, it seemed appropriate that the last dinner on my menu was a soup dinner. I made the mistake of changing into warmer, comfier clothes and then sitting down before strapping on my apron and could barely muster the energy to make Turkish Spinach and Lentil Soup. Fortunately, I knew the majority of effort I needed to expend was on peeling garlic cloves, so I managed to convince myself to put about 5 minutes of work into what ended up being a very tasty and satisfying dinner.

One of the reasons I wasn't too enthused about it was because I had forgotten just how tasty this soup is! I think I owe a lot of the flavor to the new bouillon cubes I picked up at Whole Foods last week. I used to use Rapunzel bouillon cubes all the time - they are far more cost-effective and compact than boxed quarts of premade broth - but after I had two boxes of gross, rancid-looking, melty cubes, I ditched them in favor of the Swanson broth I've been using for at least six months. I picked up the vegan bouillon cubes with sea salt and they have the most amazing savory taste!

Now, I'll admit - I really did not think the snow was going to come down as heavily as it did. Granted, the National Weather Service had issued a Blizzard Warning and more or less implied that you would be risking life and limb to leave your home today, but I guess I just didn't believe them. I spent all day today looking out the windows and laughing because the snow was still coming down and it really did look like a blizzard. This seriously interfered with my plans to go food shopping, though, so I comforted myself with the knowledge that the crazy Chinese people who have a restaurant that is literally a 10 second walk from our front door were open today. However, by the time "dinner time" came around, neither Mister or I wanted to leave the comfort of our warm, snowless home.

I had been thinking the other day about my culinary adventures. I'm addicted to recipes, and even when I do something on my own, I approach it in the same manner I was taught to compose music: I write it out first, then "play" it. However, having spent the past several years learning how to cook, and at least the past year really paying attention to how ingredients work together to create certain tastes and/or textures, I had a revelation. Theoretically, I should be able to just grab some random ingredients and put them together in a way that results in something tasty (or at least edible). In culinary schools, this is known as the Basket Test. Students are given a "basket" of seemingly unconnected ingredients and must find a way to create something edible (and amazing) from them. Mister inadvertently presented me with that challenge tonight and I am thrilled with the results!

My "basket" was made up of a few half-empty bags of frozen vegetables, a couple of cans in the cupboard nearing their expiration date, and a few half-empty bags of various grains. I always take comfort in my extremely well-stocked herbs-n-spices collection, though, and I figure I could probably make a gourmet meal out of Angst's Meow Mix with their help, if I had to. Lucky for you, I was so excited with how tasty my invention was that I wrote it down and will share my first recipe of 2010 with you!
Naked Burritos
2 cups broth
1 cup Basmati rice
1 Tbsp canola oil
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp sea salt, or to taste
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup frozen corn
2 cups frozen whole leaf spinach
14 oz vegetarian refried beans

Cook rice in broth on very low heat (covered) for 20-25 minutes, until all broth has been absorbed.
Meanwhile, heat oil on medium heat in a large saute pan. Saute garlic and carrots, covered, for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Lower heat to medium-low, stir in cumin, chili powder, and salt. Add corn and spinach, cover and cook 7-10 minutes, until heated through, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a smaller skillet, warm the refried beans with 1-2 Tbsp water. Stir and heat until steaming and smooth, adding another Tbsp of water if necessary.
To serve, lay a bed of rice at the bottom of a wide, shallow bowl. Spoon on 1/4 of the refried beans and top with the vegetable mixture.

You could use brown rice if you wanted, but you would need to increase your cooking time to about 45 minutes. Since I ran out of brown rice and since Mister was threatening to have more junkfood as an appetizer, I went with quicker-cooking white Basmati.

Of course, an all-day snowfest is a great excuse to make cookies, even if no one found and unearthed your car for you... so I whipped up a batch of Chocolate Agave Trailmixers from VCIYCJ. They are so good and SO rich. I like soymilk with cereal and as an ingredient in something, but I've never been able to just drink it plain. If you can, or if you drink another kind of milk, nondairy or straight from the cow's udder, you'll want a tall glass to go along with these chunky treasures. One of the add-ins are sweet-tart dried cherries and it never fails to astonish me how well the tartness of the fruit brings out the sweetness of the chocolate.
Enjoy! I know Mister and I did!

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