Tuesday, June 29, 2010

days off = picture parade + mega-post

Last Sunday, my Check Engine light came on as Mister and I were returning from Wildwood/Cape May.  This was both aggravating and amusing.  Earlier that same day, my father had asked how my little car was doing (since it had an engine transplant last month) and I told him it was chugging along just fine, "no lights!"  Long story short, Mister and I made the long, unnecessary trek out to Paoli yesterday to make the people who performed the initial surgery find out what was going wrong.  The diagnosis?  My catalytic converter blew...again.  I called the shop that installed my new catalytic converter two years ago and when they confirmed that my car was still under warranty, I asked Tweedle Dum to put Humpty Dumpty back together again and Mister and I returned to the city in time for Mister to watch some very exciting World Cup games.
Did you catch that yesterday was Monday?  That's kind of important.  It means I took the day off for the pleasure of being reminded [vividly] why GM got into such trouble in 2008, if the way they run their dealership service department is any indication.  I can understand not having a spare engine lying around, or even a cat-converter, but really - what kind of service shop doesn't have spark plugs in stock?
Anyway, I ended up taking today off from work as well, taking my car to my favored shop to have the work done by competent mechanics.  Oops!  Was that my Outloud Voice?  It was actually a beautiful day, so I decided to take the opportunity for some much needed relaxation and me-time.  Let the picture show begin!

About a year or two after the Albanian-owned South Caffe on South Street closed, taking away Mister's and my favorite place to drink coffee and watch the snow fall, a new coffeeshop was born two blocks down from us: The Bean Exchange.  The inside is charming and cozy, but Mister and I rarely go when we can't sit outside.  It's located on a relatively quiet corner, just half a block from Horizons, and the building provides enough shade that the sidewalk tables are preferable, even on hot days.

I sat down with a Hazelnut Iced Americano and the book I bought the day my car died (note the irony in the title).  I read it on the plane to and from Arizona and then forgot about it upon my return, even though I had just reached the part where things get exciting.  I'm not too well-acquainted with Terry Pratchett's work, but I adore everything Neil Gaiman has composed.  A friend introduced me to his graphic novel series, The Sandman, when I was in my late teens and I was hooked by the time he released his first literary novel, Neverwhere.

After a brief stop home to relieve myself of the Americano, I wandered across the street to the line of white tents sheltering the farmer's market I have not been able to attend in at least a couple of years.  They set up on Passyunk, between South Street and Bainbridge, every Tuesday until Thanksgiving from 2-7...and I get home from work at 8:30.  I wish I could go every week - they had so many wonderful, healthy looking vegetables!  I think Whole Foods is a marked improvement over Superfresh, but a farmer's market is still best.

I came home with a cute little green cabbage, a bag of "spicy" greens, a bunch of basil and one of parsley.  I set my herbs up with some fresh water and hid them in the fridge from my little monster, then headed back out with three purposes in mind.

First, I headed down to Headhouse Books on 2nd St, across from Cedars.  When Mister and I were killing time waiting for the Cretans "working" on my car to let us know what was wrong with it, we walked down to a shopping center that had a Kitchen Kapers.  Mister found a book he thought I'd like and handed it to me - the Babycakes cookbook!  I would like to have it, but I didn't want to carry it around with me, especially since there was a chance we'd be taking the train home.  So, I wanted to see if Headhouse Books had it.  They didn't, but they had a few others I could put on a wishlist.

Second, I wandered down Headhouse Square toward the blurry area between Headhouse and Society Hill.  There is a restaurant there that has recently come to my attention (Zahav) and I wanted to see if they had their menu posted, since it wasn't on their website the first time I looked.  As I was walking, I captured a few images I thought I'd share:

This is the site of the Saturday/Sunday farmers markets, as well as many other festivities.  This place is just calling out to be a party venue.  Let your imagination fill it with white linen draped tables, white faerielights sparkling around the pillars, or maybe garlands of roses and ribbons hanging from each one, leaving illumination to the crystal votives on each table.

Once upon a time, a bit more than a decade ago, there was a club/venue where this gated hole-in-the-city now sits.  Back when I had short, spiky blonde hair, I used to go dancing there.  Will Smith bought the land and had the New Market Cabaret destroyed so he could build a hotel.  As you can see, that never happened, so now there's just a very big hole in a very nice part of town.

It turns out that Zahav does not have a menu posted anywhere that I could find without looking like a stalker, but when I descended the stairs back down to the sidewalk, I was struck with this juxtaposition:

I have no idea what that big round building is, but I can tell it is very old.  The Ritz Theatre has been around for a long time, but next to that probably colonial-era building, it looks amusingly modern.  There are certain things that I see every time I take my gander throughout Queen Village-Headhouse-Society Hill that make me smile.  Today, I figured I had nothing better to do than take pictures and hone my photography skills, so I played tourist in my own neighborhood.

Across from the Ritz and Round Building, there is a triangular "island" which appropriately enough hosts just one building: Positano Coast Restaurant.  Every time I pass it I'm surprised at how big it really is, though I believe the restaurant only occupies the second floor of the two-story building.

I have looked at their menu and there really isn't much for Mister and I.  As the name might suggest, it's pretty seafood heavy, though I must say I hope the fish isn't being dredged from the Delaware River.  It's too bad the menu is so Us-unfriendly, because I want to sit on those couches and try not to spill red wine!

I walked back up Front Street to come home and I passed this parking lot.  Suddenly, it seemed so clear how the graffiti gets on those huge signs above busy highways, so I wanted to share and make sure you all also understand that if you can hop the fence here, you can get out on the signs.  They are on the same level, no climbing required - just step out like it's a really narrow footbridge.

This is a funny little house time forgot.  All along Bainbridge Street, there are big, beautiful, and relatively modern homes.  There are some really, really old ones, too (from the 1700s).  This is some bizarre in-between that I can't even guess at because it definitely does not fit into either category.  This little house cracks me up every time I pass it.

A little further west on Bainbridge will show you this house.  Owner of this house: if you ever get tired of living here, I will be happy to relieve you of your burden.  Yes, I do want the white picket fence, especially with all the ivy (despite the bugs that probably live in it).  Do you see that incredible roofdeck?

When I finally returned from my travels, Angst had taken up occupancy of Mister's chair and was peeking at me in the most adorable way, as if to say, "are you staying this time?"

I finally made the Curried Bulghur Casserole tonight.  I forced myself to do so.  Imagine my delight upon finding "fresh parsley" listed in the ingredients!  I washed off my new far-mar treasure and was thrilled by the crunch the leaves made as I minced them.  It was a little guy, but I decorated him with some sliced almonds before he went in the oven:

While the casserole baked, I washed off some of my new Spicy greens and learned why salad spinners have such appeal.  Piling the fun and sometimes pointy mini-lettuces into two bowls, I decorated them with slices of orange bell pepper, blueberries, and sunflower seeds.

watch out, Martha - I'm right on your heels!

I have two pounds of blueberries in my fridge.  I was very pleased with myself for getting them for only $5, but now I'm scrambling to use them.  It's not that difficult, though, when they're so big and juicy and perfectly sweet.  Go get some!

In the introduction to this recipe, the author promises it will become a family favorite.  It was good, but I don't foresee this recipe holding a place in my overloaded recipe-heart.  Perhaps a little more salt or a dash of tamari, but it was bordering on bland and the Spicy Greens almost overwhelmed it. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is her own USO

Days off are great days for dinners with a list of ingredients as long as the actual recipe.  Sometimes, long lists of ingredients do not equate to lots of washing and slicing and dicing and pressing, etc.  Sometimes, the list of ingredients is long because there are 7 herbs and spices to be blended together for one reason or another, and despite the gathering and measuring and mixing and sprinkling, the dish still gets done in about 30 minutes.  Tonight was not one of those times.

Penne Pasta with Fresh Veggies from The Vegan Table has a ton of ingredients and every single one of them requires your specific and individual attention.  There's the julienning of carrots, the slicing of peppers and yellow squash, as well as the cutting-into-florets of broccoli.  There is also the peeling and pressing of garlic, along with the chopping of olives and slicing of Tofurkey, and don't forget the chiffonade of basil!  I didn't count how many ingredients were involved, but I do remember thinking I was on the last step three times before I was actually there.

It was extremely flavorful and attractive and since I enjoy all the components that go into preparing a meal, it really wasn't that much of a burden.  I am glad, however, that I opted to make this on my day off, rather than after a full day of work.  What was truly amazing was that even though I had the foresight to recognize the sheer volume all those ingredients would create, I still ended up with about a ton!  I cut the following things in half and still had enough to feed a small army:
8 oz of pasta rather than 16 oz
1 large bell pepper instead of two
1 can of fire roasted tomatoes instead of two
2 links of Tofurkey Italian Sausage instead of all 4

Here is what remains of the menu for this upcoming week:

1. Curried Bulghur Casserole with Garbanzo Beans from The Complete Vegan Cookbook.  Yes, I am very aware that this is the third weekly menu which has included this.  I just can't seem to get it made - it's not that I don't want to, but I know there will be leftovers, so I keep holding it for the perfect time...and that time never comes because I end up with a load of leftovers from some crazy pasta dish I cut in half...

2. Kedgeree from The Accidental Vegan.  I made this a while ago and was just so pleased with every aspect of it that I wanted to make it again.  The twist this time around is that I will be using Dinosaur Kale for the first time ever.

3. Seitan Pepper Steak also from The Accidental Vegan.  It's hard to believe I've had that handy little book for nine months or so, but considering the last (and first!) time I made this was in September, I guess that's so.  I was actually looking for an Italian baked tofu recipe when I found this, but it was just too irresistible, so I'll make it for the second time in a year...

4. Vegetable and "Sausage" Skillet from the Winter 2004 issue of Eating Well magazine.  This comes together super-fast and is really hearty.  It is definitely suited to a wintertime table, but between the subarctic a/c at work and keeping the apartment pretty cool to soothe Mister's hot Greek blood, I think I can play pretend.

I took tomorrow off from work, so hopefully I will have some great adventures to share from the kitchen and beyond!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

three swings and a hit

Tonight is actually the first time I've cooked anything since the last time I posted.  While it was slightly less messy to have other people preparing my food, it was only marginally more relaxing this time around.

On Thursday, we had another management dinner.  We were so rowdy, the VP ended up buying a bottle of wine for the neighboring table as an apology for our behavior.  Don't let his contrite behavior fool you, though - he was complicit in his own (quieter) way.  Eschewing the Brazilian steakhouse this time in favor of Redstone Grill, dinner involved less meat only in a way that involved each person getting their own plate, rather than servers continually presenting a "parade of meats" on skewers, even if your little placard says NO.  There were exactly two items on the menu that I could eat, which is still two more than there were at the last dinner.  I spent more time than was probably necessary trying to decide between a pesto and tomato flatbread or a fairly generic salad.  I went with the flatbread.  Aside from the [male] colleague seated across from me challenging me to a pickled ginger eating contest, nothing blog-worthy happened.  After a while, you can't really put a comical twist on the same tired remarks about what the crazy vegetarian is going to eat in these delightful veg-unfriendly suburbs.

Friday night's dinner was far more enjoyable, both for the culinary and the company.  I met up with a dear old friend for dinner at Cedars.  It has been far too long since I've seen her, which probably helped me in my adventurous menu choices.  Mister and I have a fairly standard order when we go:
  • an appetizer of falafel, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), hummus, and baba ghanoush
  • fries with grilled peppers and onions
  • Mister gets a falafel sandwich or spanakopita
  • I get Imam Baldi
Following Dear Friend's lead, I started my meal with the Tabbouli salad, which was surprisingly parsley-heavy.  The tomatoes were uniform in dice and marinated to perfection, and there was just barely enough bulghur to hold everything together.  I would definitely recommend this and will get it again in the future.  At my urging, Dear Friend ordered the Imam Baldi and I ordered the Vegetable Sayadia.  It was very tasty, kind of like a Lebanese risotto, though there were far more mushrooms involved than I would have liked.  In the most ladylike way possible, I shifted them, one by one, to the side of my plate and happily shoveled the rest into my mouth.  It was a delightful dinner, complete with fun and intimate conversation.

I finally got to make Fusion Enchiladas and Mango & Black Bean Salad for tonight's dinner.  The enchiladas are from the Sept/Oct 2009 issue of Clean Eating magazine.  I have been holding on to the salad recipe from the March 2008 issue of Cooking Light magazine.  I made the Fusion Enchiladas immediately after purchasing that issue of Clean Eating, noting at that time that I would have to make them again, substituting seitan for the recipe-prescribed sirloin.  I did just that tonight and it came out much better.

I marinated the seitan briefly with a crushed [huge] clove of garlic and a tsp of cumin, then browned it as much as you can brown fake meat in a nonstick saute pan.  I stirred in a diced red pepper, a cup of frozen corn, and two cups of baby spinach, and while that cooked I pureed the "refried" edamame with its various components (click the link above for the recipe).  It occurred to me while I was cooking just how miserably displayed my growing photography skills were when I made this in September, so I decided to get some action shots, rather than just an ugly and concealing whole wheat tortilla lump.

a thin layer of pureed "refried" edamame, topped with the seitan filling

all my ducks (enchiladas) in a row, ready for their brief baking time

I believe I pulled the salad recipe out of a special feature Cooking Light was doing about 6 essential foods to eat each day - the ingredient highlighted in this recipe was the black beans, but I was thoroughly impressed with all the ingredients and how they played so well together.
I did learn a fairly valuable lesson while preparing the salad: ripe mango is really slippery.  I don't know what, if anything, can be done about that for future preps (and they will happen!), but I nearly lost that little sucker right off of my cutting board a few times!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

angst loves hummus, but not chickpeas

Let me describe one of my favorite moments of the day:

After a 30ish mile drive home from work (which affords me time to listen to an entire CD while cursing at the idiots traveling in the passing lane), I find parking and walk to my home.  I carefully open the mailbox so I can catch the mailman's booby-trapped mail-art before it falls between the stairs and the wall.  By the way, none of this is the fun part.  Here it comes:  I put my key in the lock to my door and when I open it just a few inches, a fuzzy little head pokes out to say, "Hey Lady, I missed you!"

Then I have to shoo Angst away from the door so I can open it far enough for a human body to fit through, but it's just so cute how he greets me at the door!

I love when he sleeps with his head on his pillow, too.

We blew his mind the other day by giving him hummus (favorite) on a piece of not-broken spinach (favorite).  He licked the hummus off and then looked really confused, since apparently his own slobber made the spinach "broken" and unappetizing.

Tonight, I made Chickpea Croquettes with Greek Salad Topping from the October 2009 edition of Vegetarian Times Magazine.  There were a few fun things about this:

1. They ended up looking just like the picture in the magazine.  This is rare for me, so I always consider it a victory when it happens.

2. Chickpea flour smells.  A lot.  And not very good.

3. The batter was really runny after I added the lemon juice and I had absolutely no faith these would come out well, but they really did.

4. Angst may like hummus, but he wanted nothing to do with our chickpea croquettes.

I served these tasty, dense little buggers with a little bowl full of mixed olives - kalamata, green olives with Sicilian spices, and large green olives stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes - those last ones are intense!  When we finished eating, there was exactly one serving left: 2 chickpea croquettes, about 1/3 cup of the salad topping, and for fun, fat, and beauty, I tossed one of each kind of olive (fine, there were two kalamatas!) in my tupperware.  It looks so pretty I almost took a picture of tomorrow's lunch, but I have to tell you - it doesn't look any different from dinner, aside from being confined to a plastic bowl.  Tupperware, even by KitchenAid, is not nearly as attractive as my hand-painted dinner plates.  If anyone really wants to see my work-lunch, please leave me a comment before 8:30 AM EST and I'll snap one before I go to work.

Monday, June 21, 2010

new Natalie action figure, with moving parts

I feel like I haven't stopped moving in days, even as I sit to type these words.

On Saturday, I got up early to meet up with parts of my family for some fun at Linvilla Orchards in Media, PA.  I saw my beloved sister-in-law for the first time in about a year and a half (she lives in Cali), and hug my dear little nephew for the first time!  Sister didn't want to travel with him until he was a year old (and I can't blame her), so it was very exciting to see them both (as well as her husband, who is obviously a very good daddy).  Her twin, the beautiful lady responsible for my wedding bouquets (oh, yeah, and also my wedding), was there with her little boys who are not so little anymore.  Both of my SILs are very protective of their children's privacy, so in place of a picture of my cutie nephews, I will show you the bouquets my wedding photographer said were the most beautiful he had ever shot:

(click on the picture to see them in all their glory)

My brother-in-law was also there, along with his betrothed and their beautiful, thoughtful little angel baby.  Little Angel is no stranger to paparazzi, so I will show you a sight never captured before on "film:"  Me, holding a baby:

She is in love with her Aunt Natalie and the feeling is mutual - she is so precious!  She is the most pensive baby I have ever seen...contemplative, even.  It's quite amazing to watch.  In any case, I carried her around for most of the weekend, so I should have my Madonna-arms in no time.

After a fun morning at the farm, I excused myself to teach, then returned home with every intention of purchasing the items on the grocery list I had carefully crafted the night before.  However, Mister, who had not eaten in days (literally) due to whatever plague he has now was actually hungry so I made dinner instead.  We had the Mandarin Tofu but without the spinach salad, since I hadn't gone to the store yet.  After dinner, I ran to Whole Foods for half my groceries and still made it out 10 minutes before they closed.

No rest for the wicked; the next morning, I got up early and ran to Superfresh to complete my grocery shopping and started to make the pasta salad I was taking with us to Wildwood to celebrate Father's Day with my father-in-law and family.  First, though, while the dressing permeated the pasta and broccoli, we went to Estia with MY Father.  I'm pretty sure he was making up for my birthday brunch at Mi-Lah because he got an omelet with sausage and bacon and probably one more kind of meat - it was impressive.

Mister took a short nap while I finished assembling the pasta salad, then we headed to the beach.  Things didn't go completely as planned, so we came back with the same 3.3 liters of pasta salad we took off with:

We had a wonderful time with my FIL, MIL, and the same crazy crew from Linvilla.  The minute I trekked through the sand in my new Nine West sandals, Angel Baby was reaching for me and trying to launch herself off of her mother to me.  I have never had a child react to me like that.  It's usually the opposite: trying to get away from the scary lady holding him/her captive while screaming like a banshee.  I have held one of my nephews exactly once because it was so traumatic for him and for me.

You have to admit - as flats go, those are some pretty edgy sandals.  I found it amusing that I was leaving little Nine West logo prints in the sand.  If you go to Nine West's website you'll find that these babies retail for $69.  That is not what I paid for them, since I got mine at DSW, but it struck me as funny that most people probably would not consider wearing such "nice" shoes on the beach.  For me, though, that was actually the primary purpose in buying them and breaking them in - they didn't actually stay on my feet very well until I baptized them with sand; now they work just fine!

In any case, there was no Grill-Off, so we took our pasta salad back to Philadelphia, stopping along the way to have a nice, quiet dinner at Godmother's in Cape May.  Quiet was kind of important after we were reminded just how noisy four children under the age of 10 can be.  We can probably add my bro-in-law to that list, since he acts like he's not too much older than 12, but he and Mister had a stimulating conversation about video games...

It goes without saying that we had gobs of pasta salad for dinner tonight.  I'll let you know, though, that it was very refreshing that the prep work took about 5 minutes and consisted of setting the table, stirring the pasta to make sure it was evenly coated with dressing and then scooping it into bowls and hooting "Dinner!" at Mister.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

on second thought...

It's been kind of an off week, cooking-wise.  Monday and Tuesday's dinners left a bit to be desired, Wednesday I was completely uncreative (is that a word?) and just had the leftover Tofu Rancheros, sans tortilla, since I was happily slathering the last two tortillas with the last of the baba ganoush I used to trick my husband into eating "eggplant," and then stuffing them full of salad to make a couple of fun and crunchy wraps.  Thursday, due to Mister acknowledging that he was falling apart (more in a minute), I got to be a little creative since he had absolutely no interest in eating.  Same story tonight, though the ending was closer to that of Wednesday - I heated up the leftover casserole.

All the not-cooking gave me plenty of time to think and reflect while the microwave whirred as white noise in the background, surely imbuing my food with all kinds of carcinogens but everyone dies from something, right?  Here is what I've learned over these past few days:

1. When you make a big old casserole of something your husband doesn't want to eat, you become solely responsible for disposing of leftovers.  I hate wasting food, so I have eaten that casserole for lunch at work for the past three days AND for dinner tonight.  I have one more serving left, after which I will probably never want anything to do with casseroles ever again.

2. When you give something a second chance, in a different setting and at a different temperature, you can take the time to be mindful of its flavors and textures in a much more constructive way.  I have found that my attempt to recreate my mother's casserole (which she has shared came from her best friend who got it from her aunt) wasn't actually that far off and I truly believe this could be salvaged with only a few variations.  I may want to try it out on a larger audience because I'm not sure Mister will be too keen to try the "new and improved" version, but that's okay - it wasn't for him.  This is one of the few dishes I created more or less exclusively for me (which is good, since I'm the only one eating it).

3.  Mister is much easier to boss around when he is a space cadet, hopped up on over $100 worth of steroids and antibiotics.  No arguments from him about our far-flung Sunday plans!

Since I had taken a decent portion of leftover casserole to work with me yesterday to have for lunch, I really did not want to repeat it for dinner last night.  So, when Mister said he wanted nothing to do with food last night, I decided to try to cook up a health-protective and nutrient-rich dinner-for-one, just in case Mister was actually contagious (though I don't think infections of his entire cranial region are catching).

I don't really have a recipe, so let me try to recap what I did.  Maybe I will develop it into some kind of entree or first course later, but for now...

I cooked a 1/2 cup of jasmine rice in a cup of water. Meanwhile, I peeled and julienned 1 carrot and sauteed it, along with two cloves of garlic, pressed, in about 1 Tbsp olive oil.  I chopped up about 1 1/2 cups kale and added it to the mix, then dissolved 2 Tbsp brown rice miso in an equal amount of warm water.  I stirred that into the kale and carrots, along with about 1 Tbsp tamari, then turned off the heat and stirred in the cooked rice until it was thoroughly combined.  It was very very good and made me feel just a little bit safer from Mister's germs.

We (okay, mainly I) have a lot of social "obligations" this coming week.  Sunday, we will brunch with my parents and dine with his, in celebration of Fathers' Day.  Thursday, I have another dinner with my colleagues, so I'm sure I'll be full of fun stories that night.  Friday, I will be meeting up with a dear old friend for dinner and drinks.  While I am very much looking forward to every single one of these social opportunities, I realized tonight that it means there will be at least three nights, maybe four, when I won't make dinner.  That made me a little sad, but I'm sure the fun I expect to have will [over]compensate for that.

For my tiny menu, I have kept the two meals I didn't make this week because Mister is sick and added two more from my little [bulging] folder of misfit recipes, carefully cut from various magazines (will cite them when I make them):

1. Mandarin Tofu with Peppers and Broccoli accompanied by Spinach Salad with Japanese Ginger Dressing because I have been obsessed with that tangy peach-colored dressing they serve at fine dining establishments (don't let the pictures fool you) like Hibachi for years and the possibility of replicating it in my own home sounds like heaven.

2. Curried Bulghur Casserole with Garbanzo Beans

3. Fusion Enchiladas accompanied by Mango and Black Bean Salad 

4. Chickpea Croquettes with Greek Salad Topping because it's funny to think of my mother cringing every time she reads about a recipe with chickpeas (and because it sounds tasty!).

Stay tuned - we have some fun adventures looming in the very near future!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Donna Reed takes a walk on the wild side

Alternate title: Sometimes, courage backfires.  

I can say with a certain degree of certainty that the last two nights' dinners were not winners and it is highly unlikely they will find their way to the table again.  Fortunately for you, the telling should be at least somewhat entertaining, in that can't-look-away-from-a-trainwreck kind of way.

Last night, I made Seitan Noodle Casserole, which was only marginally less of a disaster than tonight's dinner.  Let me start with the story of why I thought this was a good idea:

Once upon a time, my mom made this really great casserole that we unanimously loved as a family.  I don't know if it actually had a name, but if memory serves, it involved shredded chicken, cheddar cheese, macaroni, and probably a condensed soup product.  In any case, we loved it and it was apparently easy to make, so it became a "regular" in Mom's dinner rotation.  She used it to bribe me into eating when I might not be otherwise interested and it worked every time. 

For the life of me I can't imagine what made me think of this...perhaps I was craving a comfort food, perhaps I yearn for simpler times, but I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming desire to recreate this old Better Homes & Gardens classic in a cruelty-free recipe.

With any luck, my mom is looking at this picture and saying "Oh my heavens, it looks just like the casserole I used to make!"  If that is actually occurring, let me say this one thing in your defense, Mom:  It was nothing like yours (you win).

 It does actually look tasty, but it didn't come close to the taste and texture I was trying for.  I am going to try to tweak it a little and give it at least one more chance because there were a few things I knew right away I would do differently a second time.

1. saute the seitan until it becomes a little brown and crispy, rather than baking it while still "raw."
2. same with the peppers, but substitute "softened" for "crispy"
3. add some seasoning agents to make the "cheese" sauce a little more intense
4. use cheddar Daiya (or Ricemilk cheese)

The main problems in this version were the mildness of the cheese sauce (Mister said it resembled marshmallows after a few bites) and the fact that the only Daiya left at Whole Foods was mozzarella-style.  I think I would still like to try the cheddar-style.

Let's talk about Daiya for a moment.  Jess at Get Sconed has made her reticence toward this cheese-replacement a well-known fact.  Nevertheless, Daiya is taking the vegan foodie universe by storm, so I wanted to give it a try.  I've never actually used any other non-dairy cheese in a way that required melting, so I really don't have a point of comparison.  Here is how the mozz-style Daiya melted on top of my fail-casserole:

Not overly convincing, if you ask me (which we'll presume you did, since you're still reading).  Also, not terribly appetizing - this opinion was vehemently reinforced by Mister when he made a concerted effort to eat around the "fake cheese."  Neither of us is impressed and Mister was very grateful I didn't taint tonight's dinner with the 1/2 cup left over.

Tonight, then, I thought I would try to make up for last night's less-than-perfect dinner.  What better way to suck up to Mister than with his favorite food: Pizza!  I pulled out my VegNews and my brand spankin' new jar of sumac and put together Zesty Za'atar Pizzas with sliced Roma tomatoes and Kalamata olives.

It's very pretty, yes?  That's about where the enjoyment ends.  First, that crust was one of the most difficult-to-cut crusts ever and required my pizza roller-cutter as well as my super-sharp Kuhn Rikon paring knife.  I may have nearly lost my temper, too, and nearly given up on dinner.  Maybe.

Because I couldn't find any pre-blended za'atar, I purchased a jar of sumac and put it together with the other ingredients in a recipe I had for the blend.  I coated the pizza crust with oil, sprinkled the za'atar all over it, artistically arranged the tomato slices and olives, re-coated with oil and baked for about ten minutes.  Mister and I learned a valuable lesson from our walk on the wild side:

It's good to be adventurous...as long as you know it will sometimes lead to absolute and undeniable failure.

We have decided (unanimously) that we aren't fans of sumac or za'atar, at least not in the quantities required to coat a pizza.  We ended up scraping a great deal of the spices off and trying to salvage dinner...

I had hoped that the casserole would have been awesome, comforting, and amazing so I could share a recipe with you, but I am no Mozart and sometimes I have to erase things and redo them to get them right.  If I do accomplish what I want to with that recipe, I will post it then, but until that time I want to encourage everyone to head over to chicvegan.com (you can also link from the right side blogroll) because my Banana Blondies recipe was featured!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

vegan is the new black

I can't remember where I saw that, but I figured it made a better title than Kale is the new Green, which is what I really wanted to say.  It is my current "favorite" food.  We all know by now that by next week I could have a new favorite, but I have realized over the past couple of dinners just how much I love kale.  It's so much sturdier than other greens; it makes cooked spinach taste wimpy and belittles the crunch of bok choy.  Let me begin with the weekly menu, though, so I'm not being anachronistic or repetitive in the wrong places...

1. Zesty Za'atar Pizza from the May/June edition of VegNews magazine.  The picture was entirely too enticing to resist, even though it turns out that za'atar is the new harissa - I have looked all over my corner of Philadelphia and the closest I got was one Middle Eastern grocery/convenience/corner store that had one of the spices that will become za'atar when I combine it with the herbs I already possess (as well as a recipe).

2. Seitan Noodle Casserole, a hybrid of nostalgia and my own twisted mind.  I'll let you wait for the story until I've made it and posted the details.

3. Mandarin Tofu with Peppers and Broccoli

4. Bulghur and Red Lentil Pilaf with Kale and Olives from The Complete Vegan Cookbook.  There are two amazing flavor/texture combinations going on here: bulghur + red lentils = creamy, buttery, yet chewy base; and kale + kalamata olives = eye-popping flavor and hearty, mindful chewing.  More in a minute (hint, hint).

5. Curried Bulghur Casserole with Garbanzo Beans also from The Complete Vegan Cookbook.  This sounds similar to another curried bulghur dish I used to make all the time when Mister and I first became vegetarians, but I kind of retired it when I "learned how to cook."  That's a really polite way of saying I beat it to death and had to wait a year or two before I could make anything involving curried bulghur again.

6. Tofu Rancheros, which drew some inspiration from the cookbook mentioned above, but the finished results are quite disparate from one another.  When I was looking through the cookbook, I came to a version of Tempeh Rancheros, and as I continued scanning the book my mind took me back to our recent mini-vacation in Arizona and how excited Mister was to get a breakfast burrito, so I wanted to try to recreate that for him here.

So for dinner last night I made Bulghur and Red Lentil Pilaf with Kale and Olives and it was every bit as delicious as I had remembered.

You may or may not find that as attractive as I do, but if you don't, it's probably because you didn't get to eat it.  We ate it all up, so I'm afraid there are no leftovers to share, but just take my word for it - this is amazing!  I have made it before, and not all too long ago, but this is such a great (and easy) dish that I can see it easily becoming a "regular" in whatever semblance of a rotation we have.  Although I wouldn't call kale a bitter green, there is something strong in it that is perfectly accented by the winey notes in the olives.  If you'd like to read my love letter to the ingredients, feel free to follow that link.

Tonight, I made Mister's Tofu Rancheros and they were definitely a hit!  I was impressed with how well everything worked together.  I've used most of the ingredients together multiple times, so I was pretty sure I knew how it would come together in my mind - the one thing I wasn't sure about was how the tamari-marinated tofu would work in a dish that had primarily South-of-the-Border flavors.  Everything came together pretty quickly, so this will definitely work out as a weeknight dinner someday and sometimes it's fun to leave the silverware in the drawer and take full advantage of the napkins...

Tofu Rancheros
yields about 6 servings

14 oz firm tofu
3 Tbsp tamari/soy sauce
cooking spray
2 Tbsp oil
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed
14 oz can of petite diced tomatoes, drained, with liquid reserved
1 cup chopped kale
generous 1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
sea salt, to taste
6 whole wheat tortillas*

Coat a square skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium-high heat.  Slice tofu in half length-wise, and then into eighths cross-wise (for 16 square slices).  Lay tofu slices on skillet and sprinkle tamari over tofu and the skillet.  Flip the tofu slices with a spatula so the tamari and oil coat both sides.  Lower heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, until browned and a little crisp.  Remove from heat and roughly chop with the edge of the spatula.

While tofu is cooking, heat the oil in a saute pan or deep skillet.  Saute red pepper and garlic 3-5 minutes.  Add drained tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, and salt and saute for 5 more minutes, adding reserved tomato juice by Tbsps if the mixture seems too dry.  Add kale and stir to wilt, then add tofu and mix well, breaking up the tofu a little with the spoon.  Cook for 1-2 more minutes, then remove from heat.

Divide mixture among 6 warmed tortillas, roll like a burrito and enjoy!

* I used whole wheat tortillas from Whole Foods.  They also have red chile tortillas (both of these are under their 365 store brand), which I think would work just as well, if not better, since they would add a little bit of zing.

Friday, June 11, 2010

how vegans get fat

There aren't too many ways I can think of to make a vegan fat.  I know it happens and I'm pretty sure Isa and Terry wouldn't mind taking the credit blame for that, but I think it takes a great deal more effort to get fat on a vegan diet than a "normal" one.  Considering Ruben Studdard lost about 150 lbs (cumulatively) by going vegetarian and then vegan, and remembering Oprah's little vegan "cleanse," I would say most people who want to temporarily "give it a whirl" probably turn to veganism/meat-free diets to assist in losing weight after everything else fails.

Dynise wants to help change all that with her decadent, delicious, and decidedly NOT low-fat Spaghetti Carbonara.

I couldn't even bring myself to have a second serving.  It was delightful and rich in all the right ways, including the one that helps my mind recognize when I don't need to over-indulge.  Even though I [obviously] read the ingredients carefully for the dinners I choose, it absolutely did not connect in my brain just how...fake fatty this sauce would be until I was assembling the ingredients:

I didn't include the nutritional yeast because I didn't think it would stand out among all those brand names and because the bag it was in was ugly.  Three-quarters of that stick of Earth Balance ended up in the sauce, along with over a cup of soymilk and both of those Tofurky links, quartered and sliced.  I subbed the sausages for the tempeh bacon because I didn't want Mister to die.  I was really impressed with how thick the sauce became - it really didn't look like it would become quite this...well, meaty, when I was first whisking the soymilk into the nooch-and-Earth-Balance roux.

Speaking of meaty, yesterday was Employee Appreciation day at work.  There were rumors that I was going to feed everyone tofu, which were initiated by the rumors that there would be "healthy food" and no hot dogs (imagine that - eating healthy at a weight loss company).  I was skeptical - I have worked there for about three and a half years and have never witnessed a company celebration that didn't involve those wondrous little tubes of pink "meat."  Imagine my delight upon arriving for the festivities, trainees in tow, and finding:

  • fresh fruit smoothies (no kidding, they blended the bananas and strawberries right in front of you!)
  • trays of sauteed or roasted vegetables (couldn't quite tell which)
  • huge baskets of oranges, apples (red delicious and granny smith), and bananas
  • salad and raw veggies
  • SunChips in every flavor and a variety of baked chips (better than nothing)
  • whole wheat buns for the grilled chicken, hamburgers, and Morningstar Farms veggie patties

Not present? 
hot dogs
sugary desserts

Well done, Company!  I tried to behave, but there were two funny moments that arose:
There were two lines for hot food - one line to hamburgers and BBQ chicken, one line to veggie patties and grilled chicken breasts.  The girl directly behind me was a fellow vegetarian, but the girl behind her was definitely not.  It was that woman who asked what the two lines were and before I could stop myself, I told her "this line is for veggie burgers and chicken and that line is for charred animal flesh."  Fortunately, she found this almost as amusing as my veg-friend and I and then excused herself to the Animal-Flesh line.

The celebration went on for five hours.  I took my trainees to the opening festivities, so by the time things were drawing to a close, I was hungry again, so I thought I'd see if there were any veggie burgers left over.  There weren't, an inconvenience the server apologized for before letting me know "We still have chicken, though!"  My friend and I laughed as we walked away, since obviously a chicken breast would be an adequate replacement - after all, chicken is a fruit, right?

I feel happy, though, that enough people ate the veggie stuff that we ran out.  My boss even partook and made me proud!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Eau de Allium

If I ever got famous enough to have my own perfume, there is a very big part of me that would want to call it Eau de Allium, especially if the source of my fame was my culinary [mis]adventures.  In case you missed it, Allium is the "scientific" Latin name for garlic, and that is the scent I am most likely to ooze through my pores for the next few days (at the very least).  Once again, I offer my apologies and condolences to my colleagues and new hires...but not my regrets, nor my repentance: I'll do it again.

Apparently, in 2007 there was some huge stink (tee hee) about the prevalence of garlic in Italian cooking.  I totally missed that, and I'm glad, because I love love love garlic.  Mister's exact words upon his first bite of dinner tonight were, "That's a lot of garlic you have there, lady!"  Meh.  I guess, if you consider a whole head a lot...

I'll come back to that, though.  Last night, we finally had the Mediterranean Rice Salad from One-Dish Vegetarian Meals.  The vinaigrette I poured over the rice salad before refrigerating for 30 minutes to let the flavors meld and set contained only a conservative 2 cloves, but since it was raw, you could taste it even more intensely than the 10 cloves in tonight's dinner.

It was very simple, easy to put together and it tasted phenomenal.  This is absolutely the kind of recipe you just want to tack to your refrigerator so you can just pull it out at any random and necessary moment.  There were not many ingredients, which allowed the ones that were there to shine and play off of one another.  I used twice as many roasted peppers as I was "supposed" to, but it worked out perfectly.  Mister's only request was that the next time I make it, I make it earlier in the week so he doesn't have to resist the temptation of oil-cured black olives he isn't allowed to eat, and then he acted out a short vignette of the olives beckoning to him whenever he opened the refrigerator and his attempts to resist.

The vinaigrette was primarily olive oil and balsamic vinegar with some garlic, salt, basil, and lemon juice.  It was also supposed to have oregano, but I was not trying to choke on my salad.  It saturated the rice perfectly - not too much, just the right amount, with a delicious sheen of oil on top of each little grain.  I grated a half cup of fennel into the mix as well, but it really didn't stand out - it must have been one of those behind-the-scenes players that made the whole thing amazing.  It smelled fun!

Anyway, tonight we had Orecchiette con Broccoli from The Urban Vegan.  I didn't make this too long ago, but there was one substantial difference: this time I used fresh broccoli.  It wasn't perfect, but it was a vast improvement.  I also got to use a new-ish toy, my butterfly whisk by Kuhn Rikon to mix the white miso into the garlic-olive oil "sauce.

I don't think it worked nearly as well as this ubiquitous "flat whisk" Dynise apparently has, and uses for this recipe.  At the moment, my home is too small for one more whisk - I have four already.  Besides, I'm trying to save (find) room for the 4-quart All-Clad saute pan on sale for nearly 50% off.

Natalie, would you like to purchase this 5-star rated piece of cookware you already know you need and want for $110 off its original price?

Yes, yes, I would.  *doe eyes at Mister*

Anyway, with the fresh broccoli and allowing the garlic to saute for a long time, the result was actually a much more flavorful dish that met with both mine and Mister's approval.  It's fortunate we've hit a little cold front this week, because I would really feel bad if I was sweating out all this garlic...er...Eau de Allium near my colleagues.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

dear teacher...

...please excuse Natalie; she's been sick.

So, it looks like I used up the last of my energy on the mega-post I used to greet June!  The very next day, I developed a painfully sore throat on my way home from work.  I stubbornly resisted any/everyone's attempts to classify me as "sick," and bravely went to work again on Wednesday.  By the time I got home, it was clear that denial is not just a river in Egypt (da Nile, get it?  yes, it was stupid), it was a way of life for me.  Even though I alternated between my two health elixirs:

Yogi Tea Detox Tea (I'm sure it's not meant to eradicate colds, but it does that pretty well!)

Echinacea Tea, which is probably useless once you're already sick, but give me my sugar pills

And even though I ate my Magical Don't-Get-Sick Fruit (an orange) and made myself a healthy dinner with miso, carrots, greens, and rice:

I still got sick.

Being the brave and stupid stubborn soul that I am, I decided to try to "tough it out" and go to work on Thursday, despite mounting evidence that all systems were not go.  Mister was battling the same enemy and got as far as crossing the threshold at his job before giving up and coming home.  Fortunately for him, that meant trudging four blocks back.  When I made it 5 hours into my day, I couldn't take it anymore and drove 30 miles home, complaining bitterly about the fact that our sub-zero A/C at work made me cold even when I had the foresight to bring (and wear) a sweater and cover my neck.  I may have made the same bitter complaints to my boss as I was leaving...

Mister was generous enough to pick up a ready-made (by someone else) dinner from one of the fine establishments near our home, so there was no cooking Thursday, just sniffling, sneezing, coughing, and eating heartily.  I did my best to turn our home into a sweat lodge on Friday while Mister was at work and I truly think my efforts to sweat out the illness [kind of] worked.  After a short[ish] nap, I found the energy to actually make a tasty and nutritious dinner:

I made Penne with Roasted Vegetables and Garlic Puree from Vegan Italiano.   It absolutely hit the spot for me - I think Mister would have liked the flavors to be a little more pronounced and for it to have had a little less zucchini and yellow squash.  I know he doesn't care for them, but the roasting brought out a delicious sweetness, complemented by the little grape tomatoes waiting to pop in your mouth (some couldn't wait and popped in the oven).  I had a glass of Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes with mine and must admit, I was a little taken aback by the first taste.

I had done a little research about Torrontes because I had seen this specific wine so many times in my continuing attempts to find the Crios Malbec I enjoyed with my salad in October.  I've mentioned before that one of the only whites I'll drink willingly and regularly is Riesling, but I still keep an open mind.  I've liked most South American wines I've tried, though they've all been red, so I wanted to see what this Torrontes was all about.

All the descriptions emphasized the fruitiness and crispness of the wine, so I was able to completely overlook the teeny-tiny mention of the wine being "quite dry."  After that shocking first sip, I looked on the back of my bottle and found that this popular Argentine wine can most closely be compared to Sauvignon Blanc...probably the white I hate the most.

Anyway, between the one glass I drank and the effort of making dinner draining me more thoroughly than I thought, I found myself quite ready to sleep a couple of hours later.  When I woke up the following day, 12 hours later, I felt completely rested, energetic, and all-around better!  I still coughed my way through my lessons, but that was all.  I'm pretty sure my peppermint Americano aided my energy level, but either way, I was happy to flit about the kitchen last night and prepare Moroccan Chickpeas with Couscous from One-Dish Vegetarian Meals.

It did not pair especially well with the Torrontes, but it seemed to go better than it had with the pasta dish (and I did not feel like opening my new bottle of Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo just yet).  This dish is easy, but nothing special, so I will move on to two links (yes, more!) and my new menu.

First, I'm not sure how I stumbled upon this site, but I am so glad I did - I have mentioned before that all of my logical arguments about why I chose such a "difficult" diet/lifestyle tend to fall right out of my brain when someone demands I explain myself.  I don't know why - I don't actually owe anyone an explanation for MY dietary choices.  I guess I see it as my opportunity to help someone else make this amazing change and I don't want to blow it.  Regardless, How To Win an Argument with a Meat-Eater gives a great breakdown of all the knowledge I encountered that helped me make my decision.  It's a great resource and a helpful reminder of why I chose this path - give it a read, you might learn something!

The second link is an absolutely brilliant article written by Sherry F. Colb, regarding a recent petition from the dairy industry to stop labeling non-dairy dairy substitutes as the thing they are replacing.  In it, she points out that the dairy-substitutes are not actually riding the "success" of the dairy industry, as much as they are adequately labeling themselves as an alternative product for people seeking to avoid dairy for one reason or another.  The whole article is just so well written - you will seriously do yourself a disservice if you don't read it, regardless of your own [present] feelings about dairy.

It's nearly time to start dinner, so let me share the new menu that I managed to get the goods for prior to the skies opening up with the gale-force thunderstorms we aren't actually having right now (thanks for putting the fear of God and a sense of urgency in me, though, weather.com):

1. Mediterranean Rice Salad with Roasted Red Peppers from One-Dish Vegetarian Meals and also from last week's menu.  That whole getting sick thing threw a wrench in the works, but I'm pretty sure that's dinner tonight.

2. Granada Paella from The Urban Vegan.  When I was scooting through some old posts to find the information I shared in my round-up, I decided to just go back and read some of them.  My nostalgia lead to most of this menu, as well as some new treats I hope to cook up (ha, ha) for the next one.

3. Orecchiette Con Broccoli also from The Urban Vegan.  This will probably be dinner tomorrow primarily because I was wrong about the broccoli being done with being gross and I don't think the two crowns I picked up will last more than a couple of days.

4. Spaghetti Carbonara also from The Urban Vegan.  I haven't made this before, unlike 2, 3, and 5 (hang on, I'm getting there).  In fact, I've never made a carbonara sauce, so we'll see how this bacon-free one comes out!

5. Seitan and Polenta Skillet with Fresh Greens from Vegan Express.  I never know how long Dynise's recipes will take, but I know they don't usually go all that quickly, so I like to have one blink-and-it's-dinner recipe in my back pocket.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Round-Up Returns (and a link party!)

I'm not sure I could honestly say there was any kind of mass uprising demanding the second round-up post I'm about to write, but I did get two pleasant requests and that's enough in my book, especially when dinner was nothing to write about.

We had Indian-Spiced Vegetables on Basmati Jasmine Rice.  It was tasty, but relatively unremarkable.  I substituted chard for the napa cabbage in the recipe for two reasons: one, Whole Foods did not have a single head of napa cabbage, and two, because I accidentally picked up a bunch of chard last week.

On to part one of the Round-Up!  Although I hope you found my first round-up (beauty and personal hygiene) edifying, we're going to concentrate on food this time around.  Ironically, Mama Pea has been focusing on the same thing in her Pea Mail segments, so for more general information, feel free to read her posts.

Question #1: What are some things I always have on hand, essentials, if you will?

In the fridge:
Earth Balance
unsweetened soymilk
flavored soy yogurts
coconut milk coffee creamer
multigrain bread
100% juices for Mister
an 11 oz box of Olivia's Organics mixed greens, at varying levels of fullness
ketchup and 3 different mustards (two for Mister and one for me to use in recipes)
minced ginger
hummus and/or baba ganoush
various fruits and vegetables

In the freezer:
frozen veggies: broccoli, spinach (chopped and whole leaf), corn, peas, and cauliflower, sometimes green beans
frozen waffles and frozen berries in the winter
Tempt "ice cream" or some other non-dairy frozen dessert

Pantry essentials:
pasta in multiple shapes and lengths
Basmati rice (as well as sometimes arborio, Jasmine, and brown)
whole oats
canned tomatoes and beans
liquid smoke
vegan worcestershire sauce
agave nectar
maple syrup
peanut butter
coffee (regular, flavored, and decaf - we don't mess around)
a chest of teas for drinking and for recipes
kosher salt and sea salt
dried beans and lentils (red, French, and brown)
Clif bars and Luna bars, sometimes Larabars, Odwalla bars, and Clif C bars
dried fruits and shredded coconut
Oils: extra virgin olive, canola, peanut, and toasted sesame
Vinegars: balsamic, red wine, white wine, rice wine, apple cider
Cooking wines: Mirin and Rice Wine
My Herb and Spice Army - it would take a whole other post to give you their names.  Most commonly used herbs: organic basil, marjoram, thyme, tarragon, and parsley.  Most commonly used spices: cumin, curry powder, chili powder, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger.

Question #2: What are my favorite cookbooks/recipes?

There are three "tiers" of cookbook favoritism going on in my home: most favorite live on a bookshelf IN the kitchen, not quite as favorite but still awesome cookbooks live on a shelf just outside of the kitchen, and the ones I look at a time or two a year live on the bookshelf down the hall.

I love everything Isa Chandra Moskowitz has published, though I find it usually takes more than an hour to make the food contained in her books.  The recipes are always worth the time and effort, but I normally stay away from these books if I anticipate a particularly pressed-for-time week.

While I love all of Sarah Kramer's books as well, the one I find most useful is La Dolce Vegan, because the recipes cook faster and the portions are generally intended for her and her husband... Which is perfect, because that's who I'm cooking for - Me and My husband.  You can test-drive my favorite recipe from that book here.

I have three cookbooks exclusively devoted to getting dinner on the table in 45 minutes or less, without which I would be lost:

Vegan Express by Nava Atlas is absolutely Queen of these three.  I don't think I have ever come back to this blog after making one of her recipes and said, "Well, that sucked."  Not only do her entrees come equipped with suggested side dishes, you can also normally get from washing the vegetables to table in about 30 minutes, sometimes less.  See my full review of this book here.

The 30 Minute Vegan by Jennifer Murray and Mark Reinfeld.  This is my only cookbook that also deals with the Raw Food movement, so it gets a little fruity at times.  I am not as big a fan of the "diversity" of recipes presented in this book as I am of those offered by Nava, but there are certainly a decent number of great recipes.  See my full review here.

Vegetarian Times: Fast and Easy, a compilation of recipes featured in the eponymous magazine.  The recipes in this book are marked as taking 15, 30, or 45 minutes from the first slice to the first bite - helpful, but not always accurate.  The meals are tasty, if not a little tofu-centric.  When I first got the book, Mister and I weren't all that fond of tofu, so we've grown to like the book more as we have found tofu a more reasonable part of our dinner.  It would not be a good "starter" book for someone looking into a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle because there is just too much tofu.  I think it's better to focus on grains, beans, and vegetables in the beginning, but that's just me.

I am more or less in love with Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, a collection of recipes served at the aforementioned restaurant in Ithaca, New York.  The cookbook is divided into countries of culinary origin and it is an absolute treasure, given to me a long time ago by my mother-in-law, before I even knew I could cook.  In fact, I'm pretty sure most of my education came from that book.  Unfortunately, I don't think I have ever made a recipe from that book that took less than hours, so I reserve it for special occasions and holiday dinners.

Final Round/Link Party:  What are my favorite [speedy] recipes?

A short disclaimer: you may have noticed from the abundant use of links in my posts that I'm pretty big on citing sources and giving credit where it is due.  Consequently, I have a real problem sharing other people's recipes.  I have provided several cookbook recommendations, as well as links to amazon.com in the hopes that you will purchase at least one of these cookbooks and try your hand at the recipes I've mentioned.  All the links I share here will be to pages in my blog which contain self-composed recipes.

Toasted Quinoa Salad comes together in about 20-30 minutes, tastes great, provides a complete protein (all 15 essential amino acids), as well as plenty of greens and healthy fat from the almonds and coconut.

Broccoli Pasta with Savory Sauce takes about as much time as it does to boil the pasta - everything else goes on "meanwhile."  Just about everything can be speedy when you use frozen vegetables, but if you're quick with a knife, you can still chop up the broccoli before you need it to be ready.

Greek Quesadillas are easy to make, fun to eat, and give you great garlic breath.  For my spinach-allergic readers, you can easily sub out the baby spinach for arugula or a couple of leaves of chard, cut into ribbons.  If you're really slow it might take you 20 minutes to make these, including preheating the oven.  For a stovetop tortilla-based version, try Fiestadillas.

Pea and Pepper Risotto cooks quickly because of the arborio rice, which will absorb the broth even more quickly if it's at room temperature or heated up slightly.  I love how savory the broth makes it, while the red peppers and peas provide a complementary spark of sweetness.  The recipe, as written, will provide two adequate servings (adequate means you're eating a side dish and a salad as well).

Pear and Carrot "Fried" Rice is a quick side dish, provided you have some leftover cooked rice sitting around.  It would probably be a nice accompaniment to...

Pineapple-Tamari Braised Seitan with Vegetables.  Depending on what kind of rice you use (Basmati/Jasmine cook in about 25 minutes, long-grain brown cooks in 45...they say), this recipe will certainly push the limit of a 30 minute time-frame, but it tasted too good to be excluded from my little round-up.  The sweet-n-savory nature of the broth-turned-sauce is one of my favorite things about Asian-style cooking and I was very pleased I figured out how to replicate it.

There are a bunch of other recipes, but most of them take closer to an hour (or more, on occasion) to make, so I've left them out.  You can access every recipe I've ever posted by clicking on the "recipes" link at the bottom of this post.  That way you can also access my dessert recipes...