Saturday, July 31, 2010

I blinked...where's July?

When I shared my menu for the past week, I mentioned that all the chosen meals were there because they would cook up quickly, which was important because I anticipated a busy week.  I can honestly say that I have never said TGIF as with as much conviction as I did yesterday.  Don't get me wrong, I have been quite relieved to meet the end of my work week many times before, but normally, I was too tired to care by the time it happened.  Crazy though my week was, I still had the energy to be excited for Friday.

Thursday night, I made Pasta Jambalaya from Vegan Express, and because I continually complain about the crunchiness of the celery, this time around I bypassed it completely in favor of a second green pepper.  It worked out perfectly.  I also used about half the Tofurky - I didn't think it was necessary.  Other than that, I don't have a lot to say about that.  Besides, I'm more excited about last night's dinner.

This is my amazing, gorgeous, beloved sister (-in-law).  We had a date last night - we even got hooked up with a table for two with a romantic view from the patio of Positano Coast.  Visit the website for some pretty pictures (of the food as well as the gorgeous facility).  I have wanted to dine here since I was taking my Tourist Walk about a month ago.  The dinner menu leaves quite a bit to be desired for those of us who do not wish to sup on the flesh of myriad creatures, but the wine list is to die pun intended.

I had the only thing I could - Eggplant Napolean.  The portion was perfect, especially since Sister and I had gracefully gorged ourselves on Italian bread, peppercorn Olive oil, and mixed Mediterranean olives while waiting for our entrees.  Sister indulged in the Baked Cannelloni, which would be perfect for Mister, aside from the ground meat in it.  I also ordered a quartino (9 oz carafe) of Tempranillo - upon tasting it, Sister declared it her favorite wine.  She had never had Tempranillo before, so it made me laugh a little.

Continuing the Italian theme, tonight, Mister and I had Tuscan Vegetable Ragout from Vegetarian Times: Fast & Easy.  

Every time I make this, and I actually repeat this dish more frequently than others, Mister always asks what it is - he never recognizes that we've had it before.  The reason, of course, is that because the recipe invites variation, I change it a little each time.  This time, I added in cubed smoked tofu and orecchiette.  It was delightful, and served with a bowl of mixed olives and a glass of Tempra Tantrum Tempranillo-Shiraz, it was quite filling

Tomorrow, we'll be gathering with family at my parents' home.  I will be providing some tasty bits to supplement my mother's food, but I don't want to give my secrets away, so come back tomorrow to read about that.  In the meantime, let me share the upcoming week's menu:

1. Warm Chickpea Ragout with Swiss Chard, Carrots, and Harissa from Vegetarian Times: Fast & Easy.  Yes, this is leftover from last week's menu - I hadn't factored in dinner with Sister when I made the menu.

2. Pasta with Fresh 5-minute Basil Tomato Sauce from La Dolce Vegan.  Note the timeframe.  I'll be at next Friday before I know it.

3. Veggie Goulash also from La Dolce Vegan.  I love this book and it's been waaaaayyyy too long since I constructed a menu with its help.

4. Punjabi Peppers and Tofu also from LDV, because I love this recipe too much to not make it when I'm making my whole menu from this book.  It is so painstakingly simple that it's a shame it looks and tastes so impressive.

5. Vegetable Biryani as the final selection from LDV.  I've never made this because I'm very happy with the recipe I have in my Moosewood Cookbook, but this recipe appears to cook up faster and biryani is just so good.

Angst is happy that July is over.

Sssshhhh.....Don't tell him August is worse...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

which way is up?

I really want to say that I can't remember to blog and I don't know what happened which day because I'm super busy, but considering I just went back to work today, I might have to just plead insanity.  I'm kind of stressed out and I'm having trouble focusing, but I really want to write, so let's see where this goes (it might be along the lines of my December-January nonsense).  Let's get this party started...

Saturday, I finally made Pomegranate BBQ Tofu with Coconut Rice from VwaV

I'm not quite sure how I've served just the tofu and rice by themselves so many times without it occurring to me that something green probably ought to find its way onto the plate.  I ran up to Superfresh while Mister took a short nap - I figured if there was one food that would make him happy, it was probably roasted asparagus, so I grabbed half a pound, snapped off the ends and tossed them in the oven with the tofu (separate pan, though).

I had created the menu for the "new week" the night before, with every intention of shopping for it before teaching on Saturday...unfortunately, last week exhausted me more than I realized, so I slept just about until the time I had to get ready to leave.  I'll share my menu at this point, so the next couple of dinners make sense:

1. Jerk Seitan from VwaV, served on the leftover Coconut Rice.

2. BBQ-Flavored White Beans with Sausage & Spinach from Vegan Express, left over from last week's menu...because I can't make the BBQ Tofu without making this, also.

3. Pasta Florentine from The 30 Minute Vegan with Roasted Cauliflower with Olives from Vegetarian Times: Fast & Easy

4. Tuscan Vegetable Ragout from Veg. Times: Fast & Easy

5. Warm Chickpea Ragout with Swiss Chard, Carrots, and Harissa, also from VT:F&E (do you like how I shorten the abbreviation each time I type it?)

6. Pasta Jambalaya from Vegan Express.

You may have noticed a trend in the cookbooks.  Every one of the items on my menu, other than the Jerk Seitan, can be prepared quickly and with relatively little effort.  One of the reasons my brain is so scattered is because unless something unforeseen should occur, I anticipate the next three weeks being extremely busy and at least moderately exhausting.  As such, I wanted to craft a menu of items I was a) sure would cook up quickly and b) am familiar enough with that I can "whip them up" without thinking too much.

On Sunday, I dilly-dallied a little too long and missed the FarMar as well as the Italian Market, and just as I was getting ready to pop out the door for a trip to Whole Foods, the sky opened up and poured... just like said it would and I foolishly ignored.  After the rain, I headed out and got my shopping done so I could let Mister pick his poison for dinner.  He chose...

Pasta Florentine with Roasted Cauliflower and Olives.  I was actually a little worried about the pasta dish after Mister's assertion that "vegan food tastes like marshmallows," because I was certain the taste he was isolating belonged to the soy milk-nooch sauce that was also a part of this dish.  Evidently not, since he polished off a good, healthy portion (or three).

I had never made the side dish before and it was amazing, and for no good reason.  All I did was toss a bunch of cauliflorets with some [very high quality] olive oil and sea salt and black pepper.  In the last ten minutes of cooking, I added the olives.  Mister and I were both trying to figure out what made the cauliflower so outstanding - all I can think of is that I truly did not realize what a difference "best quality" EVOO would make.  Thank you, FIL!

By the way - right now might be a good time to wish my little blog a Happy 1st Birthday!

With all the crazy distracting me, even though I was aware I was coming up on one full year of doing this little blog, I totally missed the actually day.  July 24th was the official day, so I'm a little belated.  It's fun to see how I've grown in this year, not only in my photography ability (which was more or less nonexistent a year ago) as well as my sense of culinary adventure.  Have I fallen flat on my face?  Sure.  Was it fun?  Absolutely.

Anyway, last night we had Jerk Seitan on the leftover coconut rice.  It never ceases to amaze me how flavorful this dish is when I give it some time to makes a world of difference from the first time I made it.  No pictures, though, because the lighting situation still sucks and it didn't look any different from last time either.

Tonight's dinner was BBQ-Flavored White Beans with Sausage and Spinach, which I also didn't take pictures of and for the same reasons.  I served it up with a little bowl of huge cherries and a little bowl of mixed olives.  It was a fun combination - I felt bad that there was no side dish after how well I'd been doing!

One last thing - thanks to Mandi at Chic Vegan I came across an incredible article.  It could be a little fruity, but it makes you take a step back and think for at least a moment (I Hope!).  Just the title itself is enough to provoke reflection:  Gratitude - the Grass is Green Where you Water it.  Give it a few minutes to change your outlook - we all need a gentle kick in the behind from time to time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

vegan soup for the sickly soul

It's been a nutty week!  I really wish I could turn that into a pun involving the cashews in my crisper, but I can't.  Not yet, anyway - maybe later, but that's another tale for another time.

I could have posted about Tuesday night's dinner, Pasta Della California, but it didn't look any different than it did before and I didn't think it was blog-worthy to exclaim my excitement about finally finding and using a ripe avocado.  Scratch that - I don't think there was a single ripe avocado in the whole avo-pyramind they had set up at Whole Foods. I did, however, discover a secret that everyone else probably already knows - if you let your avocado sit on a pile of citrus (think lemons and limes) for a couple of days, it ripens up really nicely.  Think about that the next time you have a useless pile of citrus lying around.

I can't remember what I ate on Wednesday, but I know that it involved my leftover Eggplant Bites from my date.  Oh, and the leftover Pasta della California.  So I guess I do remember, it just wasn't anything special - before you know it, I'll rename Wednesday to Leftover Wednesdays (formerly One-Serving Wednesdays, formerly No-Cook Wednesdays).  Needless to say, it wasn't nearly exciting enough to photograph or write about.  "Mmmm, tonight I had leftovers that I barely bothered reheating!"  That'll keep you reading for sure.

Anyway, somewhere in there, Wednesday night, if memory serves, poor Mister got sick.  I woke up Thursday morning to find a cute little note he had written me while I was sleeping and he was sitting up sick and sad.  I called his work to let them know he wouldn't be in and left him sleeping while I trekked off to my new office (I didn't get a new job, just a new building and I'm still adjusting - it makes for an even longer commute in my aged and dying car). 

He wasn't up for eating when I got home, so I just threw something fun together for me.  I should have taken a picture, but I didn't know if it would be very attractive in the half-light of my kitchen.  It was made up of dark food - I took the last serving of Chickpeas Romesco, added some frozen spinach and one Tofurky kielbasa, quartered and sliced, and cooked up some of my black beluga lentils - it was very fun and I succeeded in making enough to take leftovers to work today.

Poor Mister realized he was a little hungry around 11 pm last night and here is my absolute favorite part of yesterday:  at 11:30, I was standing at my stove, in my apron, stirring a pot of aromatic, nourishing, steaming soup for the love of my life.  Many a time I have found myself popping a tray of cookies (well, almost-cookies) into a hot oven at that time of night, or maybe checking the "done-ness" of a batch of banana blondies, but there was something heart-warmingly nurturing about the soup.  It gave me such joy to throw together a bunch of fun ingredients (carrots, green pepper, shallots, garlic, chives, edamame, spinach, and orzo, along with the broth and some thyme and tamari) and make something tasty for my husband and his unfortunately challenged immune system. 

I have two distinct feelings about this soup:
1. PRIDE that I finally have enough "fluency" in cooking that I can just throw a bunch of things in a pot and call it soup...and then have someone else verify (without prompting) that it was very tasty.

2. REGRET that I didn't pay more attention while I was doing it so I could write up my first soup recipe...oh well, October will get here eventually.

When I returned from another fun and fascinating day at work and what felt like miles of loops looking for parking, I was still somewhat disappointed when Mister didn't want dinner again.  I briefly considered making the Pomegranate Tofu anyway, but that's a ton of work for just one person and more than half of it ending up as leftovers.  I poked around my cabinets and fridge, as well as prodded my little brain to come up with something creative and nutritious (otherwise, I could just take advantage of the charmingly close proximity of a bunch of great take-out restaurants).

To accompany my Yellow Tail Shiraz-Cabernet, aka Purple, I made what I have dubbed Carrot Noodles with Soba and Spinach.  Clever name, don't you think?  No, actually, you're probably thinking, "I wonder if she knows Soba are noodles and Carrot is a vegetable."  I am aware, thank you.  However, if you happen to have a nifty julienne peeler (which I do) or a spiralizer (nope, not yet), you can make "noodles" out of things like vegetables - in this case, carrots.  Here is a fun [rough] recipe:

Carrot Noodles with Soba and Spinach
4 oz soba noodles
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 medium carrots, julienne or spiralized (what a great word)
6 oz baby spinach
2-3 Tbsp brown rice miso (or whatever miso you prefer - white miso would probably taste good here, too)
1 Tbsp tamari/soy sauce

Boil noodles in water.  Meanwhile, briefly saute the garlic in oil on medium heat, then add carrots and stir well to coat with oil.  Saute, stirring often, 3-5 minutes, until carrots are noticeably more bendy (I hope that makes sense!).  Add spinach and stir in to wilt.

Before draining soba, reserve 1 cup of the water.  Mix water with miso until completely dissolved, then stir in tamari.  Pour this mixture into the carrot noodles and spinach, then add the noodles and cook another 10 minutes, stirring frequently to allow the noodles to soak up some of the sauce.

Eat with chopsticks because it's a sin to eat noodles like this with a fork.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

two strikes...but they're good!

I love how one word can mean completely different things from one sport to another.  Take "Strike" for example:
In baseball, strikes are bad things - the more you have, the closer you are to losing your turn.
In bowling, on the other hand, you strive for strikes and the more you have, the closer you are to winning.   We bowled two strikes with dinner last night and tonight.

Last night, we actually [finally] ended up having a date!  It wasn't exactly the quiet, candlelit dinner in a refined restaurant that I had originally envisioned, but I think we actually had a lot more fun eating dinner at a bowling alley.

Mister told me about a dining adventure had by one of his colleagues...some crazy talk about vegan buffalo wings.  I did a little digging, discovered he was talking about North Bowl in Northern Liberties, and suggested we try these wings for ourselves.  So we trekked to the car and headed north for the first time in years, I think.  It was a relief to see that NoLibs really is being built up pretty nicely, like folks have been saying. 

If you haven't been to North Bowl, let me make this recommendation:  Go tonight.  Or tomorrow night.  Or maybe the next night, but for the love of heaven, please go.  As bowling alleys go, it's pretty swanky - backlit bars with neon blue, fabulous lounge furniture and cool vibe on the upper level.  It appears to have been a warehouse at one time (in NoLibs? no!) and I applaud the genius of Oran Daskal for seeing what became a pretty cool place.  In addition to a dozen or more 1950s-style bowling lanes, there are several billiards tables, a DJ who looks like he's right out of an Old Navy/iPod commercial and plays a fantastic mix of music, blending one song into the next with a decent bit of panache.  It's a little loud for a date, but it looks like a really fun place to go with a group.  Mister and I had a great time. 

It's very veg-friendly, yet it is the first place in a while where Mister and I would have been happy to put together a meal from appetizers.  Between the two of us we had Eggplant Parm Bites, Veggie Buffalo Wings, Pizza Tater Tots, Garlic Parm Tater Tots, a Blackened Tofu sandwich with hummus, and a veggie dog piled high with sauteed onions and sauerkraut.  They have an entire section of the menu devoted to variations on Tater Tots.  That is pretty darn cool if you ask me.  The tofu sandwich left a little to be desired, as it was not blackened via pan-searing, but rather by a 1/8-inch coating of various spices.  I really can't deal when the spices/marinade don't penetrate the I won't be ordering that again, but everything else was awesome and we will definitely be back because we both wanted to order just about everything on the menu that wasn't dead.  We can really be gluttonous sometimes.

So tonight I waged the epic battle of which dinner to make from my fresh menu.  Chickpeas Romesco on Garlic-Saffron Rice, both from Veganomicon, came out on top.

OMG.  I don't say that lightly, mainly because I hate all those cutesy little "acronyms" that come from texting, but srsly (tee hee), this dish was astonishingly good.  A few notes: I didn't actually make Garlic-Saffron rice.  I tried, really, but the minute I opened the saffron and smelled it, I remembered the God-awful first time I used it and just couldn't bring myself to ruin what seemed to be such a promising dinner.  I'm so glad I trusted my instincts because the rice was phenomenal just being Garlic Rice.  I did add a dash of turmeric for that gorgeous sunny yellow that doesn't come out in the picture because I'm working with half-light in the kitchen.  The chickpeas and sauce were also surprisingly amazing.  They don't look like anything special - I'll give you that.  But the very first bite in my mouth made my eyes pop with surprise and pleasure (unlike my first bite of eggplant bites last night, which made my eyes pop with "holy-crap-thats-hot") and I enjoyed every bite after just as much.  I could kick myself for not making this sooner and I'm thrilled that I chose this over the Pasta Della California I almost made.

Well, that's all for me tonight - time to finish the wine and wash the dishes!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

there's always room for F-A-I-L

It's kind of like JELL-O but without the fun and happy (and boiled bones, but we'll leave that off for now).

Despite an ardent desire to stay in my bed this morning when Mister rose for work, I got up and threw on something that at least partially resembled what they call "an outfit."  I did this because the maintenance guy told Mister he would be coming to fix our drainage situation around 10am.  As time ticked by (and I grew more ticked off), I started to wonder whether he meant 10am Eastern, Central, Mountain, or Pacific the time I had to take a washcloth "bath" for the third day in a row so I could go to work, I didn't really care what time zone he was on as long as I came home to a functional bathroom.

That didn't happen and that really tweaked me.  If there is one thing in this world that really gets under my skin, it's incompetence.  How hard is it, really, to be where you say you'll be, when you say you'll be there, doing what you're paid to do?  I do it with relatively little effort 5-6 days each week!

Mister had to call because I didn't think I could be nice.  To my great surprise, Captain Can't-Do-My-Job did find his way here at 8pm, and seemed to feel that his excuses would somehow pardon our still-broken bathroom.
  • If you are in my building but not my apartment, you failed.
  • If you failed to do your job right the first time, don't look to me for compassion about having to come back to do it.
  • When I haven't showered in three days, got up early, and didn't go food shopping because I was expecting you to arrive 10 hours ago, do not anticipate sympathy from me that you had to park 5 blocks away because it's Saturday night and I live near Philadelphia's version of Bourbon Street.

Okay, maybe it's not that bad...all the time.

Anyway, while we waited for Repeatie McDoItAgain to arrive, I ran up to Superfresh to get that leg of food shopping over with, as well as so that we would have something for dinner.  I happen to know from past experiences with the stellar maintenance guys that it would be stupid to hope to go out.  Tomorrow, now that we have a functioning bathroom and can therefore behave like normal people, with all that cleanliness nonsense, I intend to visit the Headhouse FarMar to see if it's any better on Sundays than it was two Saturdays ago, then (if it sucks) the Italian Market for garlic and cherries at least, and finally (if it doesn't suck) Whole Foods to complete my list.  And then, I'll be able to make...

1. Chickpeas Romesco on Saffron-Garlic Rice, both from Veganomicon.  I must admit, I'm a little nervous about using saffron again, but I'm hoping the garlic will keep it's floral scent in check...or it will be the most nauseating smell ever.  I'm not hoping for that.

2. Pasta Della California, also from Veganomicon.  I feel like I've been quite adventurous enough lately and need to remember it is okay to repeat dishes more than once a year.

3. BBQ Pomegranate Tofu on Coconut Rice, both from Vegan With A Vengeance.  Just because it's soooo good.

4. Jerk Seitan on the leftover rice, from VwaV.  I'm working my way into a pattern here.  I use up the extra Coconut Rice with this recipe, and then (you should know this is coming), I use up the extra Pomegranate BBQ sauce (best thing ever) with....

5. BBQ-Flavored White Beans with Sausage and Spinach from Vegan Express.  Someday, I will find another recipe that calls for that 1 cup of leftover BBQ sauce, but until that sad day, I will continue to make this recipe within one week of making the BBQ Tofu.

6. Broccoli Pasta with Savory Sauce, recipe here.  That was dinner tonight.

Now that the bathroom works, maybe we'll focus on the kitchen light.  Again.  Even though my heart stops beating every time Mister has to climb up and change it (roughly monthly).

I mentioned when I made this dish originally that I wanted to tweak the sauce a little.  To compare with the recipe you can link to above, this time I used 16 oz V8 Spicy Hot instead of tomato sauce, compensating for the thickness by making a slurry of 1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in an equal amount of room temperature water.  I still did not add the harissa because I wanted to see how Spicy Hot the V8  made the sauce without harissa's help (not very).  I increased the PB to 1/4 cup, the tamari/soy sauce to 2 Tbsp, as well as the red wine vinegar to a full teaspoon.  It still needs a little something, but it's getting there!

Friday, July 16, 2010

what's your money's worth?

Ever since I was introduced to the term in high school economics class, I have been fond of measuring things in terms of opportunity cost.  Although I will admit it doesn't always make sense or apply to a situation, it does make other decisions easier.

For example - right before we went to Arizona, my car just plumb stopped working.  It didn't run at all and had to be towed to be fixed - that fix took two weeks, an engine, a rental car, and a few thousand dollars.  When Mister and I were trying to decide whether it was worthwhile to invest that much money into an 8-year-old car with over 150,000 miles on it, we finally decided to fix it because we knew what kind of 'used car' we were 'buying,' as opposed to starting from scratch and paying far more than we would to fix a car that hasn't given me any trouble until that very moment.

That same thinking is what has kept us stifled and cramped in our teeny, tiny, frequently malfunctioning apartment for over five years.  We both think it's just plain stupid (for us; everyone else can make their own decisions) to pay the same amount or more in rent than we would pay on a mortgage for a house.  Unfortunately, spacious apartments in this part of town are hard to find for under a thousand bucks.

In any case, when the bathtub is clogged and the kitchen light blew out for at least the fifth time in 2010 (no joke), I take solace in things like this: How do you know when you've gotten your "money's worth" from something?  Feel free to comment with the answer to that :)

While I was definitely having an "I hate my apartment" moment after the light blew, I was able to find happiness in the small blessing of a beautiful dining table.  Mind you, the table itself is nothing breath-taking to behold in all its IKEA glory...

But it is functional, space-saving (both sides can fold down, leaving only a 10-inch "obstruction"), and most important, it moved our dinner eating to a more civilized adult setting.  For the first couple of years, Mister and I ate dinner on the couch, using the coffee table (which was usually covered with any variety of magazines, school work, books, and or mail) to hold our drinks while we balanced out plates on our laps.  There is always a small part of me that gets great joy every time I set out a beautiful tableau on our little table:

Dinner was just so pretty tonight and it made Mister and I happy to have such a nice table to sit at.  Back to the money thing - this is not an expensive table and it does not look like one.  Sometimes I think I will want to replace it with something prettier/more regal when we move and sometimes I think I will just buy/make a couple of tablecloths instead.  In any case, though I would feel wasteful just getting rid of something perfectly functional just to have something prettier, my little table has served well through over a thousand dinners and months of poring through magazines planning my wedding, as well as providing a sturdy surface for the addressing of invitations (DIY, baby). 

You may notice in the picture above that there is not only a beautiful pair of dinners and a charming fruit bowl, but also a black and white photo of Mister and I.  It was a gift from my sister and I love it, so I brought it home from work (we're moving from one building to a new one this week, so it seemed like a good time) and it's keeping my pretty roses company (until Angst eats them).

We had our two salad dinners the last two days.  Last night we had Soba Noodle Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing from the Sept. 2009 issue of VT magazine.  For a pretty picture, click the link - the one I put on the table last night was not even remotely photogenic so I didn't even bother.  It was very good and provided us with excellent garlic breath for hours (I do consider that a happy thing - no, I'm not kidding).  The dressing had a bit of bite, which was probably the raw garlic, although I think the quarter-cup of rice vinegar might have helped.  It's not pretty at all, but I would definitely recommend it, although I would use all 8oz of the soba noodles in the pack to disperse the dressing a little more - it was bordering on too intense.

Tonight, on the other hand, we had Rice Salad Primavera from the July 2009 issue of VT magazine.

The picture might have been prettier if both bulbs in the overhead light in the kitchen were on, but alas... let's not go back there.  The flavors in this salad were much subtler than last night's adventure.  For fun, I served the salad on top of... salad.  I figured some mixed greens would add color and crunch (since cucumber and raw pepper aren't crunchy) and I was just in the mood for a good fruit salad - Superfresh did not disappoint!  That store has so much potential...

Anyway, off to plot my new menu with a little help from Yellow Tail and Symphony X!

One last thing before I go - Mama Pea is hosting a cookbook giveaway - see her blog for details!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

one-pot wonders

Please tell me I'm not the only person who has watched That Thing You Do! [over and over].  Remember how they called themselves the One-ders before they hit it big?  And how everyone thought they were the Oh-Nee-ders but it was supposed to be a clever wordplay?

Yeah, well, I fought every impulse in me to keep that stupid pun "clever wordplay" out of the post title.

I have an entire cookbook devoted to One Dish Vegetarian Meals, so I really shouldn't be that impressed/excited by the one-pot nature of tonight's and last night's dinners, but I am completely psyched - I don't think it occurs to me how many pots, pans, and dishes I dirty in my nightly cooking endeavors until I make a meal this easy to clean up.

Last night I made Savory Tofu and Vegetables over Tomato Couscous from the Sept 2007 issue of VT magazine.  There were a few reasons this recipe caught my eye: for one, the tofu is sauteed with the artichoke hearts in the marinade from the artichoke jar.  Marinades are kind of a new thing for me, and it might not have ever occurred to me to use the marinade in the jar if this recipe hadn't put the idea in my brain.  I also liked the idea of steaming the couscous with the juice from a can of tomatoes...yes, I really can be that dense simple-minded.

It was very good for dinner last night, as well as lunch today.  There was one thing that stood out to me as somewhat bizarre, though - it was not cloyingly sweet by any stretch of the imagination, but it was far more sweet than it was savory.  That really surprised me, especially considering how downright tangy the artichokes and their marinade were.  I can only attribute it to the length of time I cooked the leeks and carrots (could have begun the process of caramelizing) and the tomato couscous.

In contrast, tonight we had Smoky Black Bean Tostadas with Garlicky Greens from the March 2009 issue of VT magazine.

As you can probably tell, I forewent the crisping of the tortillas to make fragile (read: super-messy) tostadas in favor of riceless burritos.  For a more attractive picture, click the link, but I'm pretty happy with the way these came out.  I made a few changes to the recipe to make it the friendly one-pot wonder that it was: I just sauteed everything, including the salsa, together.  Also, because I had some leftover and because it's fun, I quartered and sliced a link of Tofurky Kielbasa and I think that really benefited the final product.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

time for a revision

One of my go-to and very comprehensive cookbooks, not surprisingly, is the Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook.  The edition I have was published in 2005 and it is high time they revisited the book and made some additions - namely, Bulgur with Leeks and Swiss Chard which originally appeared in the Oct. 2006 issue of VT magazine.

It really could have been a bit more attractive but there was very little that would have made it taste better.  I have never actually cooked the stems of chard - ordinarily, I cut the leafy bits off of either side and discard the stems (per almost all recipe instructions).  So, it was with some degree of trepidation that I chopped up the center stem of the chard and added it to the pot to saute a while with the leeks.  They actually cook up quite nicely, with a toothsome bite without the crunch I find so irritating in celery.  I substituted one link of Tofurkey Kielbasa for the mushrooms.  In retrospect, I probably could have added two links, but I didn't want to overwhelm the inherent veg-centeredness of this dish by going too heavy on the meat analog.  I was worried that all of the broth would not be absorbed, but it ended up creating a creamy texture akin to what you could imagine a bulgur risotto tasting like.

Continuing my theme of preparing the more veggie-heavy meals earlier in the week (to be absolutely certain all perishables are used before they get gross), tonight I made Mixed Vegetable Masala from the Nov. 2008 issue of VT magazine.

It's pretty and it smelled good (and pungent!), but it really isn't any different from my other curry recipes.  I had high hopes for the sauce, but I have to say, it was nothing special.  I thought it would be a little more flavorful, a little more intense - it involved fire-roasted tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and my food processor.  In the end, it made more of a mess than an impression.

Friday, July 9, 2010

the many faces of creativity

It struck me, about halfway through my day at work today, that I had no idea what we were having for dinner tonight.  On the off chance Mister wasn't feeling up to going out, I knew it would be wise to have some kind of recipe in mind, however vague or defined its form.  I thought about just throwing a bunch of random things in a pot and seeing what happened, but I thought a "back-up plan" probably wouldn't hurt.

I'm kind of like a boy scout (or a mother) in that over-prepared characteristic.  You should see me pack for a trip...'cause you never know when it might snow in Arizona.

Anyway, there are some things you can almost always count on...and if you're wrong, life just got a little better.  One of those things in my life is this: for two years, I have had to battle for parking upon returning home from work on Friday evenings.  It doesn't matter what time I get home, I'm going to make several loops of my neighborhood before I bully someone out of their parking spot.  Depending on the traffic on southbound I-95 (on a Friday, when the Phillies are playing) and the parking situation (on a temperate and shiny evening, very close to a social hub in the city), I am in varying states of being able to think and/or cook when I get home.

So, just in case Mister didn't want to take me out for dinner, and just in case I sat in traffic for over an hour, barely cresting 15 mph, I wanted to have a specific Plan C that required very little thought and even less effort.  Vegetarian Times to the rescue!

Tonight's dinner, which required a short trip to Superfresh for a few things I didn't just have sitting around, was Indian Salsa Stew from the September 2007 issue of VT.  There were two things that drew me to this particular recipe out of the thousands in their recipe database: it has five ingredients and promised to be done in 15 minutes; I have a mostly unused jar of salsa in my fridge just waiting to enhance a dish - this one!

The first ingredient in the list is a one pound bag of frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot mix.  I really prefer to use fresh vegetables unless it's February and they're all gross and overpriced, so one of the three things I picked up at Superfresh was one of those conveniently pre-cut packages of broccoli and cauliflower.  When I went into my crisper to grab a carrot to add in, I noticed the shriveling half-bunch of asparagus begging to be cooked or thrown away, so I added that to the mix as well.

It came together quickly and was very flavorful and tasty - Mister was very happy, but he always is when I make curry.  He was actually ready for dinner ten minutes before I put it on the table; it's amazing what the aroma of curry will do to that man.

As long as I was poking around the very comprehensive database of vegan recipes on, I figured I would see how much of the new week's menu I could gather there.  The answer?  All of it and I didn't even get halfway through the search results!  Without further ado, then, and in no particular order...

1. Soba Noodle Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing from VT, September 2009

2. Rice Salad Primavera from VT, July 2009

3. Smoky Black Bean Tostadas with Garlicky Greens from VT, March 2009

4. Mixed Vegetable Masala from VT, November 2008

5. Savory Tofu and Vegetables over Tomato Couscous from VT, September 2007 (apparently that was a pretty good issue!)

6. Bulgur with Leeks and Swiss Chard from VT, October 2006

Okay, without intending to, apparently I did put them in reverse chronological order.  Anyway, I'm really looking forward to this menu and I will link to each recipe as I make it.  I'm still going to try for a date at some point, so one of these guys might carry over to the next menu, but we'll see.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

tastes like chicken

Tonight I made the last dinner on my menu, Antipasto Salad (Accidental Vegan) with Italian Tofu from VwaV.  Honestly, the tofu was kind of an afterthought - my real desire was to make the salad and I was not disappointed!

Artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, chickpeas, and olives, dressed in a herbed vinaigrette - it's subdued nature was outstanding (figure that out) in that it merely enhanced the complementary flavors of the marinated artichokes and red peppers and covered the scent of the chickpeas.  The tofu was quite noteworthy, however - marinated and seared on a dry skillet.  It was very good and Angst felt like he needed to do a little quality control...three times!  I couldn't believe it when I gave him a piece of tofu and he actually ate it.  I really couldn't believe it when he begged for more!  Twice!  So he had three kitty-sized servings of tofu. 

As I munched through my own pieces, I couldn't help but wonder if his attraction (he has never showed interest in tofu before, ever) was due to the inescapable impression that the tofu tasted like chicken.  I kid you not, the taste was so realistic, I felt like I shouldn't be eating it and kept staring at the mushy white inside to convince myself that it was, in fact, tofu that I was eating.

Well, that does it for this week's menu, so that means that tomorrow I will either be enjoying a happy little date at Horizons or my dinner story will be somewhat wild and entertaining...or maybe both!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

blue and sunny in Philadelphia

Last night I made Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes and Kalamata Tapenade from VwaV, primarily because I knew it was useless to try hide the Kalamatas from Mister for very long.  I bought the oil-cured black olives to distract him, but I'm pretty sure it was only a temporary fix.  Imagine my surprise, then, when he came to visit me in the kitchen and when his eyes widened and his mouth formed an O, he reached past the olives and stole a cherry tomato.  Granted, I had already hidden all of the olives that I needed under a layer of parsley and garlic in the food processor...

In completely unrelated news, I've recently rediscovered how nicely those colors (deep green and dark purple) complement one another and bring out the blue in my eyes when worn as eye shadow.

Anyway, dinner was absolutely delicious, and there was just enough left for a work-lunch.  I was conservative in my helping, though, because I really wanted to leave a little room for these sweeties:

Sunny Blueberry-Corn Muffins, also from VwaV and sparked into the front of my mind by Dynise's recent attempts to use up her own surplus of perfectly plump, ripe blueberries.

I think these are the most attractive muffins I have ever made.  They are little and tart and a little crunchy from the cornmeal.  I think I'm blueberry-muffined out, but I still have my bookmark in Isa's recipe for Blueberry Coffee Cake (New York-style, baby!) and they're only getting better (and closer!).

I had only two recipes left on my menu from which to choose tonight.  This actually resulted in a lot more thought than you would think necessary, but I have a bag of beluga lentils burning a hole in my cupboard, a few stalks of asparagus that desperately need to be used or thrown away in the next 24 hours...and I have mentioned before my reticence to waste food.  My mind started putting some pieces together when I saw the asparagus and then my eyes settled on the salsa also begging to be put to use before drifting back to my treasured lentils.  I thought of making tonight my improv night, but two things stopped me:

First, I wasn't quite ready to expend the mental energy necessary to put together an edible and fascinating recipe.  Tomorrow, most likely, so stay tuned!

Second, I want a date.  I want to try to convince Mister to take me out to dinner later this week.  It's as simple as that.

So I made Cajun Red Beans and Rice from The Accidental Vegan.  It's so tasty and very easy.  I supplemented the wimpy green pepper I had with a beautiful but beginning-to-shrivel yellow pepper, saving some to slice and add to our salads.

I used up more than half of what remained of the "spicy" mixed greens from the FarMar, topping them with sliced yellow bell pepper and quartered (and pitted) cherries.  I can't believe how wonderful those little cherries are and you can bet your bottom dollar Saturday morning will find me back in the Italian Market buying more.  I turned my fingertips a charming shade of crimson (my favorite color) while pitting and slicing them.

Coincidentally, my hair color (well, the part that isn't black) is called "Cherry Bomb."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

vegan exodus (and international cooking)

Portland, Oregon.  It is the largest city between Seattle and San Francisco.  It is jokingly said (with a grain of truth) that there are two seasons: rain and summer.  It is home to Mt. Hood, a volcano that paints a beautiful backdrop to a progressive urban area.  It has a temperate climate, prone to rain rather than snow, about 70 miles from the Pacific coast.  It is well-known as a city friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

Portland is stealing our vegans. 

I think Jess of Get Sconed started it.  She was born in NYC and found her way out to Portland and is very involved in, well, it seems, everything food and vegan-oriented out there.  She has a particular affinity for soy latte reviews (helpful, since Portland is a big coffee town).  Isa, founder of the Post-Punk Kitchen and also a native New Yorker, moved out to Portland prior to writing Vegan Brunch.  I was hopping around to blogs I hadn't visited in a while earlier today and I found that one of the two Philadelphia vegans I am aware no longer in Philadelphia.  If you guessed, "she moved to Portland," you win a prize - would you like a cookie or a biscuit?

Compared to the outlying suburbs and their inhabitants, Center City Philadelphia is a virtual oasis for vegans and vegetarians.  There is a huge number of veg-friendly chinese places in Chinatown.  The area in which I live has a sizeable Jewish population and was once known as the Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia, so there are a lot of vegan places to stay within kosher guidelines.  There are also a ton of ethnic restaurants all over the city that make it very easy to find food when dining out.  Compared to Portland, Philadelphia leaves quite a bit to be desired.  There is a very serious commitment to vegan culture out there and I appreciate that - I understand why it is so attractive to vegans to move out there.  It tempts me to do the same, yet I love my city so much.  Don't panic, Parents - we're not moving.

Ironically, we had Israeli Couscous with Vegetables and Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette for dinner last night.  If you don't know why that is ironic, in the context of a vegan exodus from the East to West Coast, please see the entire Book of Exodus in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.

I have never used Israeli couscous before and it was an interesting experience.  If possible, I would say this bigger size of couscous is actually lighter than the smaller grains.  The "lightness" lent the whole dish a creamy texture, despite that there was not a drop of anything creamy.  The vinaigrette was delightful and complex - although I thoroughly mixed the ingredients, there were some bites in which the vinegar was more pronounced and some bites that were very lemon-heavy (but not in a face puckering way).  I liked that the vegetables were roasted rather than sauteed, also.

The recipe itself could use a little work - for example, I'd rather have some idea of how long you have to boil couscous to make it al dente instead of trying not to scald my tongue attempting to figure out if it's ready yet.  There were a few times I wasn't clear on when to add something or how much, so it's an okay recipe for people who can improvise, but if I was at an earlier stage in my culinary 'education,' this would have been too much of a challenge, I think.

Today Mister and I had a Mediterranean mid-day snack: whole wheat pita with hummus and black olives.  This is just mine - Mister had his own plate, piled a little higher in every regard:

Then, completely switching gears, we had a Japanese-influenced dinner: Yakisoba from The Accidental Vegan, accompanied by a bowl of pretty red cherries.

I made it with about half the ginger, since that was Mister's only complaint last time.  I used the cute little head of green cabbage I bought from the organic farmers at the FarMar on Tuesday instead of the recipe-prescribed napa cabbage, but I really don't think it made that big of a difference.

I also julienned the carrots instead of grating them for two reasons:
1. I love my julienne peeler.
2. I hate grating things.

Keeping with the Japanese theme, I served a bowl of cherries in place of salad or olives (our normal meal accompaniments).  Mister loves cherries so I was very happy when Whole Foods announced their Cherry Fest with great fanfare.  I was not so happy when I discovered that they think $7.99/lb is a reasonable sale price to introduce cherry season.

Fortunately, when I was wandering along the Italian Market yesterday, a lovely young man was willing to part with his pretty red cherries for only $1.50/lb.

They taste just as good as they look - go get some!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

market day

The amazingness that today held actually started last night when Mister came home from work and said something to me that I've been waiting to hear for a very long time...

"The Spice Corner is open again."

Sorry if you were looking for something sigh-inducing and romantic, but that simple statement took my breath away!

I love love love the Spice Corner in the Italian Market.  It is here that I finally found my long-sought-after Harissa, here that Mister tosses a packet of Swedish fish or licorice up on the counter in the last minute before she rings up the total so I don't have time to object (like I would refuse him such a small thing), and only here have I been able to find black beluga lentils.  All along the walls there are shelves covered with big jars of spices, little bags of measured & priced spices and herbs, and a huge variety of blends.  In the back she has a bunch of flours, sugars, grains, and extracts (I had no idea there was any such thing as pineapple extract).  Along another wall are shelves full of loose-leaf teas in all varieties, with bins of nuts and dried fruit along the floor below.  As you approach the register, there are big barrels of coffee beans, as well as 1/2 lb bags of beans, and a few bags of treats - today there were those sugared gummy "orange slices" and "spearmint leaves." 

One tragic day about 5 months ago, I headed over to the Spice Corner to get some, well, spices.  As I approached, I noticed it was dark inside and when I got to the door, there was a "stop work" order posted and a note from the nice Tuscan lady who owns and operates the joint promising to be back as soon as she settled whatever dispute with the city government closed her down.  That apparently happened sometime this past week.

I was like a kid on Christmas Eve last night - I could barely wait for today!  I got up when Mister went to work, had some coffee and breakfast and began what can only be described as Market Day.

First, I ran down to the Headhouse Farmers Market, only to find that the few stands that were there had been forced out of their usual set up (by the Crafts Festival) and had put up their little white tents on the cobblestones of 2nd St.  It was actually a very disappointing start to the day, since there were only three tents and only one of them had vegetables...and 75% of those vegetables were potatoes.  My spirit would not be dampened, though, because that was just a "hey, I'm awake, why not?" detour on my way to the ultimate goal: The Spice Corner.

For the first time ever, I picked up one of the shopping baskets outside the door as I headed in...and proceed to fill it.  I got 2 bags of beluga lentils, 1 bag of yellow split peas, hot paprika and Spanish paprika, cream of tartar, dried shallots, another tube of harissa, light and dark brown sugars, and another little bag of 5 Spice.

As long as I was actually at the Italian Market and in the mood for some good old-fashioned chaos and haggling, I decided to see how many of the vegetables on my grocery list could be purchased at the stinky, fly-infested, but still charming open-air market.  I'm still pretty pleased with my 18-cent zucchini and $1.50 lb of sweet cherries, but I did very well across the board.  After taking my treasures home, I headed back out to get what was left of my list from Whole Foods and Superfresh...but apparently Whole Foods doesn't believe in Israeli couscous and Superfresh doesn't know what small red beans are (even the Goya section!), so I finished Market Day at Essene.

And the Wine & Spirits store

Sometime last week, I wandered up to the premium store we have on 5th St., conveniently across the street from Superfresh.  I knew exactly what I wanted, but I was wrong - I went in there looking for Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling and walked out with Chateau Ste Michelle Harvest Select Riesling.

This wine is absolutely outstanding.  I like wine a lot - sometimes a little more than I should, but I think we've all been there.  Although I frequently try new wines, and almost as frequently react by raising my eyebrows and quietly appreciating some aspect of the wine's character, it is rare that a wine strikes me so strongly I want to exclaim, "holy hell, that's good wine!"

I'm going to hear about that, but it was totally worth it because that is really what happened.  While I was preparing to slice my four peppers and chop up my seitan for last night's Seitan Pepper Steak dinner, I decided that Friday was as good a time as any to greet the long weekend with a little half-glass of wine while I cooked (at least I didn't have a cigarette hanging out of my mouth, a la Peg Bundy).  I poured the wine and could smell that this was going to be a good experience but I was still surprised as heck.  It's the same price as regular CSM Riesling, which is already reasonably priced, so do yourself a favor and get some!  (I think "moderation" is going to be a challenge with this one and I didn't know if the wine store would be open again before Tuesday, so I got me a second bottle, just in case.)

I can't think of a clever segue, so here is the new menu of dinners which will accompany my wine:

1. Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes and Kalamata Tapenade from Vegan With A Vengeance.

2. Italian Tofu from VwaV along with Antipasto Salad from The Accidental Vegan.  This was meant to be on last week's menu but I got distracted by the Seitan Pepper Steak.

3. Toasted Israeli Couscous with Vegetables and Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette from a member-submitted recipe on Chic Vegan.  It was featured the week after my Banana Blondies and I thought, that looks and reads like it will be very good!  Also, I've wanted to play with Israeli couscous for a while.

4. Cajun Red Beans and Rice from The Accidental Vegan.

5. Yakisoba also from The Accidental Vegan.  I just have to make it with a little less ginger - Mister thought there was some overload last time.

I repeated a couple of things from the not-too-distant past (but not all that recent past, either) but I also cut my menu one meal short (normally, there are six).  The reason is two-fold: It seems like I've been having trouble getting through all six meals, so I wanted to give myself some wiggle room.  Also, in an effort to be more creative (or to get Mister to take me back to Horizons), I wanted a Free Day to either improvise in the kitchen with whatever fun things I can think of to throw together, or to experience great cuisine somewhere other than my own table (aren't I humble?).  Anyway, we'll see how all that turns out!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy July! Let's bake!

It's safe to say that most people in the Northern Hemisphere anticipate sweating to be involved in welcoming July.  The only sweating in my house was the condensation on the water glass I left beside the oven while I baked last night.

Despite at least one week of 90+ degree days wishing June a fond farewell, July swept in quietly on the gentle breeze of a 60ish degree Midnight.  It was approximately then that Mister and I greeted the new month with Blueberry Ginger Spelt Muffins from Vegan Brunch.

If you live in Philadelphia, you may have recently observed that blueberries are taking over the world.  I might have mentioned in passing that I got a great deal on some blueberries last week when I was shopping: 2 lbs for $5.  That is a serious bargain when you consider that only one short month ago, you could pay $5 for a pint.  Blueberries are serious business when you live this close to New Jersey (so are tomatoes and corn, but those are more successful...a month from now).  I was so excited about the bargain I was getting, as well as enthralled by how perfectly ripe, sweet, and huge the berries are right now, it didn't even occur to me how much I would have to increase my blueberry consumption in order to eat my bounty before it spoiled.

Enter Baking With Blueberries.

I'm not the only one doing it, either - even though she must know, in her heart of hearts, that baking in July makes very little sense, Dynise was also bewildered by the blueberry monster and whipped up a batch of muffins from VwaV.  I had just about flipped a coin to decide which recipe to make, so I'll be following her lead as soon as I get my hands on a lemon and some more vanilla soygurt.