Wednesday, March 30, 2011

fake it 'til you make it

Through some incredible stroke of luck, I finally managed to find myself in the right place at the right time.  Just so you know, that person is never me.  I'm the one holding the lotto ticket that is just one digit off from winning.  I'm the one who gets to the party after everyone is drunk.  I'm the one who walks out of my front gate just in time to see the bus fly by.

This time, though, I had something on my side.  It's fairly well-known at work that I couldn't possibly care less about sports unless someone paid me to care less.  Instead, I enjoy "the finer things," and long for a subscription to the Orchestra or the Ballet.  It just so happens that the CEO of our company is on the Board at the Kimmel Center, a huge performing arts venue in Philadelphia.  It just so happens that the Kimmel Center is hosting the amazing opening night gala for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA).  It just so happens they needed some volunteers and it turned into a great opportunity for the CEO to send some over...which turned into a great opportunity (read: chance of a lifetime) for me to attend a black tie gala people are paying $750 to attend, completely free, aside from my obligations to help herd people.

While wearing an evening gown.
While seeing a joint performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the best in the world, with the Pennsylvania Ballet, for the first time in the history of the venue.  (as a side note, I've been fortunate to work for both organizations.)
While eating a dinner catered by Wolfgang Puck in honor of Georges Perrier (of Le Bec-Fin fame).

I live for this stuff.  So, when people say to me, "Oh, you got volunteered, eh?" I just smile.

Today I got to leave work early because I had to attend volunteer orientation.  According to the fine folks at the Kimmel Center, ordinarily they just do a quick briefing a half hour before an event, but since this is kind of a big deal (800 confirmed attendees, plus people who are only attending the concert, plus cocktail hour under an 80-foot tall replica of the Eiffel Tower strung with lights) they wanted to be a little more organized.  They had a pretty little spread of stinky French cheeses (Paris is the theme) with strawberries and grapes, alongside bottles of Perrier.  I could get used to this.  They also gave us "party favors"

Chocolate Eiffel Tower on a stick.  Yes.

In addition to this incredible privilege, I also got to leave work after only a half day in order to ensure I had plenty of time to get to the Kimmel Center.  The venue is conveniently located about 11 blocks from my home, so another great thing about today (and next week, when the actual event occurs) is that I got home early since I had a noticeably shorter commute.

Obviously, I took advantage of this opportunity to cook something time-consuming and intricate for dinner, instead of heating up the leftovers dominating our refrigerator.

No.  Actually, I took the opportunity to "enhance" our leftovers of Sicilian Market Pasta with an incredible find from Superfresh.  In a perfectly ironic move, Superfresh has packaged up produce they deem to be defective in some manner - rotting, or otherwise past its prime - and sell it for a dollar.  If a person was in need of tomatoes so ripe they were about to rot and needed a layer of plastic wrap to keep the flies away, this would be a tremendous bargain.

What luck!  I needed perfectly ripe tomatoes tonight!  So for one measly dollar, I brought home 6 perfect-for-sauce vine-ripened tomatoes and turned them into a very flavorful sauce with the help of some olive oil and my magic Tuscan Seasoning from California.  While I had only planned to get the tomatoes, I ended up with what looks like a perfectly fine bundle of tiny potatoes, perfect for roasting, also $1 and two heads of not-brown-yet iceberg lettuce for another $1.  Let's total that up:  6 tomatoes, about a dozen potatoes, and two heads of lettuce for....drum roll, please....$3.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SuperIsa to the rescue!

I had truly intended to heat up leftovers for dinner tonight.  I wanted a quick dinner (because someone stayed up too late baking and eating and blogging) and we have a growing colony of Rubbermaid citizens in our fridge.  I guess there's always tomorrow, because I got my brain hooked on making Isa's Seitan and Broccoli with Pantry BBQ Sauce.

Although the pile of leftovers in my fridge worries me a little bit, the half-loaf of baked seitan from Sunday worried me more.  Since it's baked, it doesn't sit in some broth in an air-tight tupperware, it's merely wrapped in foil and being a lump on the shelf.  I wasn't sure exactly how long it would sit there peacefully before trying to rile some of the other leftovers into a coup d'etat, so I decided to cook him.

Thank heavens that isn't how we do politics.  "I didn't want any competition, so I ate him."

Anyway, this ended up being a pretty quick-cooking recipe after all, which was fortunate since Mister forgot he was hungry until I was halfway through prep.  Then his belly started grumbling and he helped set the table while I finished up mixing 500 ingredients together for the BBQ sauce.

A quick aside: there are fundamental differences in the way Mister and I set the table.  I set it the same on both sides - my napkin on my right, his napkin on his right.  You get the picture.  Mister puts both napkins on the same side, although that means my right and his left.  I almost always use bowls, since it seems easier to chase rice, bulgur, and/or pasta around a vessel with sloped sides.  Mister stubbornly sets the table with plates, no matter what I'm cooking.  Similarly, the only utensils in Mister's universe are forks, occasionally knives.  Spoons, I find necessary on an almost daily basis and Mister loathes, aside from their function as a coffee stirrer.

Fortunately, the mashed potatoes made an adequate base for the chewy chunks of seitan and the tender broccoli that magically sops up all the BBQ sauce the seitan left behind.  Mashed potatoes require no gravy when eaten in this way, but I must admit, my brain was already working out how to adjust the BBQ sauce to make a hearty, thick gravy for Thanksgiving (yes, I know it's more than half a year away, but I live for the time between Thanksgiving and New Years).

Once again, on so many levels, Isa was my hero.  So many things Mister loves all on one plate: mashed potatoes, broccoli, seitan in BBQ sauce.  So many things I love: quick cooking, savory with a little hint of sweetness, textural contradiction between the fluffy mashed 'taters and chewy, "meaty" seitan, as well as the crisp, clean bite of broccoli.  This dinner is a winner and will definitely find its way to our table again.  I'm just so glad I made it to!!!

worth waiting for

Normally, I'm scrambling to write my post and publish it by may or may not have noticed that, but if you wander through my blog, you'll find most of the posts went up pretty darn close to Midnight.

Truth be told, I could have started writing around 10:30 and had plenty of time to clean up our awesome, make-up-for-last-night dinner.  However, it's now pushing 1am and I still have a kitchen full of messy dishes...why?

Let's start from the beginning, shall we?

Mister loves chili, especially since it means he doesn't need to use a pesky utensil to eat.  No, we don't use forks here, we scoop our chili up with multigrain tostitos.  So, to "make up" for last night's less than successful dinner, I made SusanV's Red, Gold, Black and Green Chili.

Not only did this tasty and slightly zesty chili make up for the Seitan and Prunes debacle, it also restored my faith for the third and final recipe on the menu from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.  I should note that I am not faithful to Susan's Fat Free Manifesto - I think olive oil is a good healthy fat when used in moderation and lends a delightful flavor you cannot imitate by sauteing with water.

A few other variations: in place of Tabasco sauce, I added a healthy dollop of harissa, mainly because anything hot-saucy that isn't harissa kind of terrifies me.  At least I know what to expect from harissa.  Also, Mister has mentioned his distaste for "squishy wheat" before, so I decided to forego the barley in the recipe, especially in light of last night's fail.  In place of it, I added a can of Eden Organic caribbean rice-n-beans.  It actually worked out perfectly.

So, why do I still have dirty dishes and I'm sitting here at my computer?

Well, shortly after I put our dishes on the counter to be washed, the Baking Bug bit me.  Yup.  So, in an effort to be a good little tester, I wandered over to my computer to see if there were any baked goods in need of testing.  To my ineffable delight, it seems the Baking Bug bit Dynise, too, because a chocolate cake recipe was sitting there, newly added, waiting for its first test.  I was more than happy to oblige.

Just before going into the oven.  I couldn't escape how closely the batter resembled fudge.  I really just wanted to eat the batter, so I stuffed this pan into the oven and just focused on licking the mixing bowl and spatula clean.  Score another win for vegan baking: No need to worry about salmonella when there are no raw eggs in your batter.

It actually started smelling amazing before I'd even finished mixing all of the components together, due to a patently killer technique used in prep.  Have I mentioned YOU ALL NEED TO GET THIS BOOK?  You do.

Here is my fudgy-wudgy but surprisingly fluffy and light piece of Funeral Cake.  Despite the slightly morbid name, it's just the best chocolate cake I've ever made.  Perfectly moist, the right amount of squishy, not too sweet (which surprised me, considering how much sugar is in there), and with those great little crumbs that you can squish with the back of your fork so you get every last morsel.  I could eat this cake until I got a bellyache.  I definitely see why this rich, dark chocolate cake would be comforting to mourners.

Well...those dishes aren't going to do themselves, and I can't leave them for Mister every night... can I?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

raising hell (making seitan)

I have this amazing, fail-proof seitan recipe.  Granted, what happens to the seitan after I've baked it has the possibility of all sorts of fail (<-- foreshadowing), but the seitan itself is amazing.  It is a bit time consuming, so I set aside part of what I had hoped would be a slightly more productive afternoon to make a loaf.

First, I gathered all of my ingredients together for a nice little family portrait (and to show how not scary making seitan is):

Sure, it might look like a lot of ingredients, but it's really not that much once you get going.  Plus, if you hop over to A Vegan Riot, there are step by step instructions along with pictures.

First, I put together all of the dry ingredients in my pretty Martha-Stewart-Blue bowl, and combined all the liquid ingredients in my handy-dandy 2-cup measuring cup.  Then I poured the wet into the dry and squished it all together with my hands until it toughened up a bit and started to look like a little taupe brain.

After spraying a piece of foil with olive oil, I squooshed my little brain of seitan into a shape vaguely resembling a rectangle, then wrapped it up tight and put it on a baking tray.  After 75 minutes in the oven and several flips, it came out looking and smelling delicious.

The recipe makes about two pounds, which is fortunate, since there are two recipes on the menu this week which each require one pound of seitan.  Once he'd cooled down to touching temperature, I cut the little bugger in half, wrapped up one half, and cubed the other.

Before that, however, I diced a whole white onion as small as I could.  This next picture makes my blood run cold.

That bowl is actually pretty big.  That is way more onion than I am comfortable with, but I was testing a recipe for Dynise, and she was very specific that she wants the recipes tested exactly as they're written (which makes a great deal of sense, since she's the cookbook author), so I chopped a whole large onion, hoping it would saute down to something I couldn't taste by the end.

I literally grimaced when I emptied that bowl into the waiting skillet.  There are just so many onions.

Fortunately, after an hour of simmering in the broth and sauce, they really did become nearly unrecognizable and although I can taste my own dragonbreath as I sit here, I could not actually taste the onions as I was eating dinner. 

After an hour of simmering/braising, this is what Seitan with Prunes looked like.  I think it looks tasty in a Persian-ethnic kind of way.  Personally, I like the sweet-n-savory combination of some south-middle-eastern cooking (think Persia/Iran and the northern bits of Africa, like Morocco).  Mister...not so much.

I knew this was a risk, but no one else had dared to test this recipe yet and the allure of being the first (possible only) tester for a recipe was too much for me to resist.  I'm in a place where I find myself extremely unfulfilled by my job, so most of my daring feats and feelings of accomplishment occur in my kitchen.  I was pretty sure Mister didn't like prunes, because he generally does not like dried fruit, especially when the drying of the fruit involves a name-change (think grapes --> raisins, folks).  As such, I hid the name of the recipe from him until after he'd taken a bite.  I watched as he tried really hard not to make a face to match the total revulsion he was feeling, then stifled my laughter as he tried to ask "What is this?" as respectfully and expressionlessly as possible. 

In short, as far as Mister was concerned, dinner was a complete failure.  Angst agreed, as he retreated as far away as he could get when I let him sniff my dish.  I didn't think it was that bad, but Mister hated it.  He got about three bites in before going to the fridge for bread while saying that it was just "way way way way Waaaay too sweet."  Even the decent bit of strong broth and way more onions than I'm comfortable with were overpowered by the chopped prunes; the addition of cinnamon and agave nectar did little to assist the savory nature we had both hoped for.  For the first time in nine years, Mister conceded that beef would actually taste better in this dish than the seitan did - he had a point, though.  Beef holds onto its flavor far better than seitan, which by design, takes on the flavor of the things with which you cook it.  If you cook beef with dried fruit, you will taste the sauce, but the flavor of the beef will be uninhibited.  When you cook wheat gluten with something, it tends to absorb that something's this case, prune sauce.

Of course, Mister couldn't let go of how revolting he thought the name was and postulated that the name alone was probably what prevented other testers from trying it out.  It's true - there is a certain [unfortunate] word association that occurs when a person says prunes.

Maybe my parents would like the recipe...

I'm going to hide now.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

in the mouths of babes

My brother(-in-law) is getting married in 7 weeks.

That's actually a little mind-blowing because no one ever thought he would get married, but he is, in fact, getting married.  Not only is he getting married, but he will instantly become a step-father to 4 children, in addition to already being the father of his beautiful daughter, my little angel baby.

When my SIL-to-be posted something on Facebook about how awesome their cake is going to be, I had this Lightbulb Moment when I thought, "oh dear, I hope they'll remember we don't eat animals..." regarding reception food.  Honestly, I don't have much of a problem with salad and side dishes, but Mister gets supercranky when he doesn't get to eat "real food" (more in a minute) so since social occasions can be a stretch anyway, I really don't want him to be hungry, too.

Upon further reflection, I remembered that one of the children is a vegetarian and took comfort, since surely, that means they will remember to consider a real vegetarian entree.  Then I started to reflect on the strength of a 14-year-old to make such a decision and wondered how she came to that point in her life and started thinking of my 8-year-old nephew, who has also decided not to eat animals.  This is truly perplexing to the rest of the family, especially my parents-in-law, who cannot understand why he doesn't want to eat chicken fingers.  Fortunately, his mother is supportive of his decision, and of course, his aunt and uncle love that he is a broccoli addict, but I couldn't stop thinking, my mind is a restless creature.

When so many children are making such a substantial decision, to eschew the eating of animals, I can't help but wonder what they are seeing or what they understand that eludes the general population.  I hear about children, mainly between the ages of 5 and 10, choosing a meat-free diet more and more frequently and I want to know why.  What information are these children exposed to that is helping them make this decision?  In their innocence, are they able to better understand the nature of "meat" better than adults?

It has been said, and I have observed, that children have a natural sense of evil - by that I mean some children have an uncanny sense of a person who might harm them or a situation that is dangerous.  I have seen children [who were not abused] shy away from the embrace of someone who was later found to be a pedophile.  I have seen unerring compassion from children towards animals and other children, even adults.  You hear amazing stories of children starting charities to give other children pets, or farm animals for sustenance, or raising money for cancer research.  You are acquainted with the stereotype of stray animals following children who then plead with their parents to bring the new fuzzball into their home.  When they aren't whining, children can be extraordinary creatures.

This is how my mind works.  I think way too much.

The only segue to dinner I can think of is this: SusanV, the author of tonight's dinner recipe, has a daughter she refers to on her blog only by her first initial, E.  According to Susan, E loves pasta.  Funny - my husband also loves pasta!  Smells like a segue to me....

Having been quite productive today, between food shopping, teaching, and cleaning up the kitchen, I actually had very little energy left to make dinner.  A shame, really, as I had intended to make a strange (in a good way) and time-consuming recipe that Isa just posted yesterday on  Nevertheless, I knew Sicilian Market Pasta from the Fat Free Kitchen blog would be much better accompanied by my Montepulciano than the bizarro wheatberry dish, so I started a pot of water to boil.

I deviated slightly from the recipe mainly because it seems like she's just making things more difficult for herself by sauteing each individual component separately and also because I prefer my cherry tomatoes to be at least lightly sauteed.  As the name of the blog might suggest, Susan is at least a little bit focused on cutting fat and calories in her recipes.  She includes the Weight Watchers exchange for all of her recipes.

I have nothing [big] against Weight Watchers, but what follows will probably reveal that WW is not the weight loss company I work for... Mister and I were unanimous in our reaction to this dish: too many years of dieting appear to have robbed Susan of her tastebuds.  This recipe had so very much potential....with some tweaking, this could be a recipe to reckon with, although I think Martha has already perfected it.  There was way too much pasta for the "sauce."  It's possible she meant to use 1 lb of fresh pasta, but 1 lbs of dry pasta was WAY too much.  There was also more basil than anything else, which is fine, except that it doesn't melt into a sauce.

Also, chickpeas and spaghetti just don't mix.  It is profoundly difficult to eat them together.  It was an attractive, but very bland dish.  Since we didn't eat much, there is a whole dinner's worth of leftovers, so I may try to craft a real sauce and serve the leftovers with that one day when time is tight and/or I don't feel like cooking, but really, Susan...this was the Guaranteed Not To Suck I'm more than just a little concerned about the other two recipes I have on my menu.

Because I don't want to leave you on a bad note, I will share the most amazing link.  I don't even know how I found this - it was one of those amazing finds that comes as the result of multiple "click-throughs" from one website to another.  Some woman discovered some Weight Watchers recipes cards from the 1970s and was so repulsed (and with good reason!) she devoted a blog to sharing them with others.  I laughed so hard I couldn't breath - although I don't want to rob you of your breath, I do hope you laugh as hard as I did, because everyone needs a little ridiculousness in their lives.

Click here.  You won't be sorry.

sleep is for the week

No, that was not an unintentional spelling error, it was a very poor pun.  I am ridiculously exhausted and for no good reason, other than being in a more or less constant state of sleep deprivation.  So, on Friday nights while the rest of the world is gallivanting around my neighborhood, I am struggling to keep my eyes open and form coherent sentences.  As such, I find that where I used to stay out until the bars closed, I'm old and tired and ready for bed before midnight as my body, aware that we've reached the end of the standard work week, tries to make up for the hours and hours of "lost" sleep I didn't get this week.

It's super cold in Philadelphia, which is a stunning way to welcome Springtime - I think it is actually below freezing right now and the heat keeps kicking on.  I decided, as I was leaving work and walking through rather blustery conditions, that there was nothing special enough about today/tonight/the recent past or foreseeable future to warrant a walk through the cold, windy night for the privilege of paying $25 for tofu.

Instead, I made a pit stop at Superfresh for black beans and fries and cooked up some bean burgers.  The excitement never ends.  One of the things I truly enjoy about my husband, however, is the bizarre and thoughtful conversations we have after dinner. Tonight we talked about clonal trees and Methuselah, a tree thought to be 4,800 years old; the oldest living non-clonal tree.  Last night we discussed the Hadron Particle Collider and how the Earth nearly imploded in 2008.  Which, of course, led to the most romantic thing said all night:

If the whole world has to implode, I hope I implode with you.

I know.  We're kind of like Romeo and Juliet.  I'm just waiting for our movie to come out.

Anyway, I have absolutely nothing interesting to say about our burgers, so I'll skip right to the menu.  I wanted to do something a little different this week.  I've actually wanted to do this for a while.  I did not use a single existing cookbook to construct my new menu - each of these recipes comes from a blog I've been following for a while, in one capacity or another.  You can link to all the blogs on the left side of the page and as I prepare each recipe, I will link back to the blog from which it came.

1. Seitan and Broccoli with Pantry BBQ Sauce from the Post Punk Kitchen, Isa's blog.

2. Pasta with Peppers and Sausage
3. Red, Gold, Black and Green Chili
4. Sicilian Market Pasta, all three from SusanV at the Fat Free Kitchen blog.

5. Meatless Meatloaf from Mama Pea at Peas and Thank You.  Mama Pea will have her first cookbook published this summer and I couldn't be happier for her.  You should pre-order the book - I'm planning to pick my copy up the moment it's out.

6. Wheatberry "Paella" with Chickpeas and Leeks, also from  I'm pretty sure Isa can't write a recipe that doesn't include chickpeas...just an observation.  A fun story - apparently, she was posting about the same time I was poking around my bookmarks looking for fun food, because I went back to the PPK about a half hour after deciding on #1 and found this freshly posted recipe.  I feel kinda special about that.

7. Seitan with Prunes, a test recipe for the forthcoming UV2.  I think all the other testers are a little afraid of this recipe.  I'm not saying that I'm going into this without a little trepidation, but I will be the first person to test this recipe, despite it being posted about two months ago.  I'll admit, I'm a little worried about how Mister will feel about savory-braised prunes sharing a skillet with his seitan, but I'm willing to risk a fail dinner for the sake of testing this "scary" recipe.  You can count on a great and detailed post that night!  Unfortunately, I won't be able to share the recipe, but I'm sure I'll plug once again for you to buy the book when it comes out.

With that thought, I'm going to give up on consciousness.

Friday, March 25, 2011

creative cooking part 2

Alternate title: When Bulgur = Brown Rice and Bake = Saute.

I'm glad I'm comfortable enough in my cooking skin now to deviate from the tyranny of the recipe.  I'm normally a pretty By-the-Book kinda gal, mainly because I figure if someone took the time to write it down, I should probably at least try it their way.  However, if I insisted on cooking "by the book" this week, we would have been SoL for at least three dinners...out of six, that's pretty significant.

Tonight I made the only think left on the menu (there is one more "slot" but it says "Go Out or Improv." Considering how much I've already improv-ed this week, I'm leaning toward a date...).

Curried Bulgur Casserole with Chickpeas from The Complete Vegan Cookbook is something I've made twice before, both times to mixed results.  I try to learn from my "mistakes" and I had to do some things differently this time because of ingredient issues, so the first change I made was that I cooked up some brown rice in place of the bulgur, since I used the bulgur for this recipe two nights ago.  It actually came out pretty nicely, with a slightly more substantial texture than that which was achieved by the bulgur the first two times.

The second thing I did differently was to simply cook the whole "casserole" stovetop, rather than baking it for 20 minutes.  This was due to a few things - for one, I fear baking brown rice.  It just doesn't go well for me, and I was having so much success boiling it, I didn't want to ruin things.  Also, it seemed like an unnecessary step that would only prolong the dinner-making process.  It's a good thing to keep in mind for make-ahead dinner, but if you're putting it together fresh, there's really not much reason to bake it as far as I'm concerned.

Finally, I remembered in my review of the other two times I made this that I was disappointed in the flavor - despite the prominent presence of my favorite curry powder and despite smelling delightful, when I tasted this about minute before it was finished cooking, I was astonished at how little taste there was.  The recipe judiciously calls for a very small amount of salt - 1/4 tsp.  In my world, that is far too little and I'm sure Mister would agree.  I have decided that the correct amount is closer to a full teaspoon and it will remain there until salt becomes an issue for Mister or me.

Tomorrow will either be super boring or really fun, so hopefully you'll check back to see what dinner ends up being - I'm not completely sure yet myself!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

creative cooking with Natalie

Because sometimes, when a recipe says "spinach" what it really means is "kale."  As in, the bag of frozen Blue Curly Kale that I've had in the freezer since we moved in.  I bought it at Whole Foods because I'd never seen frozen kale before and I was more than just a little curious about the Blue nature of it.  The one thing I did not get while food shopping this past weekend was a bag of fresh spinach and the weather was far too cold, rainy, and all around miserable for me to stop on the way home from work tonight, so it turned out to be quite serendipitous that I had the bag of frozen greens.

And I do mean green.  Not blue.  That was profoundly disappointing.  Apparently, kale is either green or red, but not blue.  Also, there were a ton of chopped stems in the bag - I would guess almost half the contents of the bag were stems.  As such, it wasn't all that attractive.

So, instead of Garlicky Tofu with Spinach over Pasta from Vegetarian Times: Fast and Easy, we had garlicky tofu with frozen green curly kale.  It was pretty good, although I think the frozen kale left a bit to be desired and in the future I'll be sure to have fresh spinach, or at least some kind of fresh green.  The key word here is fresh.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

memories come in different flavors

Do you remember buttermints?  I do.  I remember going to the Candlelight Diner with my mother, sister, and grandmother.  I couldn't possibly tell you what I ate there, but I remember two things distinctly.  Each table had its very own individual juke box that played a variety of songs.  The only one my sister and I played, over and over, was the theme for The Greatest American Hero.  By the way, William Katt is actually a fantastic actor and did a terrific job in one of my favorite musicals, Pippin.

Anyway, the other thing I remember is the little glass bowl of pastel-colored buttermints at the cash register.  This was way before people knew about things like germs and how gross it was to touch things other people touched, so it's really a miracle I lived to adulthood considering how much I loved grabbing a handful of those mints.

I'm a fan of dessert before dinner, and even though I ate dinner first, then had a little dessert, I want to tell you about that first, while it's fresh in my mind and relevant to my trip down Memory Lane (but don't worry, folks, we're far from finished that joyride).  When I was stocking our brand new, clean freezer, I wanted to get some Mint Chip Tempt "ice cream."  Unfortunately, Essene didn't feel like stocking it the day I was there, but not to leave empty-handed, I picked up Rice Dream Mint Carob Chip, despite my ambivalence towards carob as a chocolate substitute.

I haven't spent a lot of time with rice milk because I'm perfectly happy with soy, almond, and/or coconut.  However, since I put so much effort into making the Rice Vegan "cheese" slices melt, I figured it couldn't hurt to try the "ice cream" and see how it compared to some of my favorites.

The first taste was a shock - extraordinarily minty, far more than I was expecting.  At first I thought it was disgusting but I wanted to give it a chance.  I realized, mid-mouthful, that it tasted like a frozen version of my beloved buttermints...but without all the artery-clogging butter and germs.  So, that was a happy little surprise (so were the spoon "tracks" that showed Mister tried a little bit, too, while I was at work).

Speaking of segues...I mean, Speaking of Mister....
I woke up at 5:30 AM this morning because a kitty jumped over my head.  In my groggy state of Why-the-H-am-I-Awake, it took me a moment to remember he wasn't supposed to be in the bedroom and that we close the door every night to keep him out.  I turned to see if Mister was going to kill the cat, but Mister was not there...which explained how the kitty got in... Apparently, Mister's good night of sleep two nights ago was kind of like the one time in 2010 that I didn't have trouble cooking brown rice - a fluke.  Last night, his insomnia returned in full force, so sometime in the early morning hours, he got up and decided that it's never too early for metal.

When I finally dragged myself from the bedroom at the late, late hour of 7am, Mister was wide awake and strumming furiously on his little guitar (with headphones on, thank God).

Why don't we head back down Flashback Alley for a quick safety reminder.  Remember when you were a kid, but finally old enough to "help" in the kitchen?  Maybe mom let you use the fancy can opener to open the baked beans or something?  What did she always say? Be careful; the edges are sharp.

Looks like someone didn't listen very well.
Or maybe, someone was just a little overzealous about getting the last three artichoke hearts out of the bottom of the can where they had all crammed themselves against each other and wouldn't come out until I bled.  Until "someone" bled, that is.

Regardless of my injury (and you were worried about germs on the buttermints?), our Tuscan Vegetable Ragout was a delightful and filling dinner.  It really makes a huge yield, causing me to ponder whether to replace my saute pan with a 4-qt or if I should just go for the gusto and get a 5-qt...only time and space will tell, I suppose.

I think it gets bigger (and better) every time I make it.  I need to start reining myself in - just because I can add smoked tofu and macaroni to the 14 oz of Killer Artichoke Hearts, 2 zucchini, 14 oz tomatoes, and 28 oz of cannellini beans doesn't mean I should.  Perhaps in the interest of my 3-qt saute pan, I'll learn some restraint before the next time I make this.


Or maybe I'll just buy a bigger sauteuse.

After all, it's not like this is the only recipe I run into that trouble with.  I could have made the bulgur pilaf in a saute pan if I thought it would have held the kale.  I had a little trouble combining all the ingredients for our dinner tonight, too: Warm Chickpea Ragout with Swiss Chard, Carrots, and Harissa from Vegetarian Times: Fast & Easy.  In case you were wondering what's in it....

You don't really need me to spell it out for you, do you?  After all, the book pretty much did that in the recipe title.

Despite Harissa repeatedly kicking me in the back of my throat, this really is a wonderfully tasty dinner.  My only grievance was with the tomatoes.  I used a different brand of fire-roasted tomatoes than I usually do and I could really taste the difference - these were acidic, not nearly as sweet as other brands.  The sweetness of the other brands are what allow me to actually eat this dinner, rather than choke and sputter through it as though I had accidentally made Martha's Apple-Chickpea Curry.

Due to time constraints, I substituted bulgur for the rice upon which I usually serve this.  As a result, I may need to pull a creative little switcheroo a little further down the week.  We'll see how that turns out.  Stay tuned - this could get exciting!

Monday, March 21, 2011

captain multi-tasking

If Catherine Zeta-Jones can be Commander of the British Empire, I can be some kind of home-making superhero, can't I?  I feel quite accomplished even if I didn't get everything on my [always excessive] to-do list done.  My secret?  Slow-simmered food.

I slept a little later than I had planned, but once I had two cups of Chocolate Cappuccino coffee in me, I was in and out of the shower and painting my face in preparation for my exciting trips to Essene and CVS.  After loading up on apples and razors (yes, I know I'm early/late for Halloween, but Easter is on its way), I headed home and got to work on my first two projects.

I've never had Muhammara before but I've heard of it and thought it was fascinating.  It kind of looks like red pepper hummus but it's all hopped up with spiciness.  Today, I tested a recipe for UV2, despite my hatred for onions.

Honestly, although the red peppers and onions look very pretty together, this image made my blood run cold.  When I read the recipe, it called for one small onion, so I thought, "How bad can it be? I can handle one little onion."  I didn't realize how big onions got when you diced them - all of a sudden, my little bitty onion was all over the place.

Anyway, part of the charming parts of the recipe and one of the reasons I made it today is that the longer it cooks, the better it is, or so Dynise said in her introduction to the recipe.  While the peppers and onion were sauteing, I was unpacking one of the last boxes and setting up my bathroom.

After about 40 minutes, the onions were finally that magical state of translucent that I've always heard of but never seen since I don't commonly cook onions.  It was pretty neat to see, actually.  Meanwhile, I was industriously emptying a box full of makeup and bandaids and sunscreen and cottonballs and figuring out how to put together the puzzle of my strangely shaped and possibly smaller bathroom.

one of the most esoteric and fabulous ingredients in my cupboard: pomegranate molasses

After letting the peppers and onions swim together in boiling oil for about an hour, I poured the melange into my food processor and covered it with walnuts and pomegranate molasses and a few other things (you need to buy this book!).  I was really looking forward to seeing how a dip that didn't involve beans or anything else I could see holding it together was going to look.

It came out looking exactly like it was supposed to - kind of like red pepper hummus, or maybe Martha's sweet potato hummus, and it didn't taste all too different.  I look at it as a slightly healthier and much spicier hummus.  It had a definite kick to it, thanks to one of the things I sauteed with the peppers and onion being more red pepper flakes than I've ever used in a recipe. 

It was a great accompaniment to our dinner: Bulgur and Red Lentil Pilaf with Kale and Olives from The Complete Vegan Cookbook.  When I was at Whole Foods, I was pleased to find red kale, which is a fun color - dark, hunter green with wine-red edges and veins.  I make this dish as often as I remember to because I absolutely love it and the flavors in it, so the way I introduce a little variety is by using different kinds of kale - the first time, I just used regular ol' kale 'cause I didn't know any better (and plain ol' kale is delicious).  The last time I made it, I used lacinto (dinosaur) kale because it's easier to chop, being all not-curly and whatnot.  Also, I think the red kale was a fun addition to the deep purple kalamatas and the creamy red lentils and beige bulgur.  I wish this cookbook had more recipes I enjoyed making, but honestly, this recipe alone is worth the price of the book.

Well, time to clean up and get ready for bed so I can dream of all the fun that awaits me tomorrow through Friday...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

how long is YOUR to-do list?

I'll admit, after about a month and a half, I'm getting pretty darn tired of creating a to-do list along with my grocery list every Friday night.  I'm looking forward to the day that my weekend to do list looks something like this:
  • grocery shopping
  • shopping with long-time pal
  • date night
Or better yet, how about NO to-do list?  Wouldn't that be a great weekend?  It's not likely to ever happen, unless of course, we do another round of "right-sizing" and someone in management decides we don't need no stinkin' trainers.  When you work six days a week, there's not much chance of your one day off being a lazy one.  When did I turn into such a grown-up??

Anyway, I should be able to devote all of tomorrow to figuring out what to do about our taxes (yes, I'm super-super late this year) and setting up my desk and the bathroom.  Mister has been extraordinarily helpful - since he's home during the day, he's been unpacking as best he can, so at least I'm not running into things in my morning stupor.  For the bonus round, I'm hoping to convince him to help me hang stuff on the walls tomorrow, too.

The reason I will be able to devote myself so completely to these tasks is because I was very organized and committed to getting the menu and shopping done in the last 24 hours, and I did accomplish that.  I need to run out for just a couple of things tomorrow, but not the big event that normally takes place.  I ran out to Superfresh before work and when I got home, Angst was very interested in the contents of my bag.

You may think he is trying to snuffle Mister's Eggo waffles, but you would be wrong (although I'm sure he wouldn't hold it against anyone who managed to hook him up with his own waffle).  His face is firmly planted against his new bag of food.  Nevermind that he had a whole bowl of the very same food on the floor.  He wanted the new bag.  After I removed all the contents of my shopping bag, he nestled down on it as if to say, "my bag - I like how it smells."

Speaking of bags... After I got home from teaching today, I did not go home, nor did I collect $200, but went directly to Whole Foods for the second leg of shopping.  I thought about stopping home for my  hat first, since the beautiful day had degraded into a windy and chilly evening, but I knew I wouldn't want to go back out into the throngs of people that visit my corner of the world on the weekends.  At checkout, the cashiers are obligated to ask for a donation to the Whole Planet Foundation (click the link for more info) and tonight, for reasons unknown, I was feeling a little wealthy and philanthropic, so I added $5 to my bill.  Little did I know that for being such a swanky, high-dollar-donor, I would be gifted my very own Whole Foods Swag Bag.

This goody-bag packed such a diverse collection of punches I couldn't help laughing as Mister and I picked through: Perrier Lime (we're actually pretty psyched about that one), Caribbean Blue spring water, Route 11 BBQ Potato Chips (Mister and Angst rejoice), a smaller reusable, post-consumer recycled bag, two samples of organic (and probably very expensive) hair product - one deep conditioning and one styling gel, both by John Masters, which is available at Juju Salon on 4th St, so at least I know where to go if I want more.  Finally, you probably can't miss the big yellow box of Weetabix on the left.  That is absolutely the best thing in the box if you ask me (and we'll assume you did, since you're still here). 

I have never seen a box of Weetabix.  To be honest, I didn't think we even had it in America.  The only exposure I've had to this "breakfast" is from reading European blogs.  It seems to be pretty popular in Britain and Down Under.   As a result, I was thrilled and opened the box right after taking this picture.  I'm pretty sure I did it wrong, because the box was giving me the impression that most people add milk and fruit; it seems to be something akin to Shredded Wheat.  Nevertheless, I grabbed a little wheaty biscuit and bit into it - it splintered into a bunch of wheaty crumbs in my lap.  It was pretty good, though, once I made my way to the sink :)  I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the rest of the box, but if anything interesting comes of it, you know you'll be the first to know!

Anyway, tonight's dinner was Broccoli Pasta with Savory Sauce, which originated from my attempt to make a savory yet spicy, tomato-based yet non-marinara sauce.  After some drama with the pilot light for half the stovetop, resulting in Mister doing emergency surgery on the apparatus I use to cook our food, I finally got to make dinner, so I gathered my sauce ingredients while the pasta boiled and the broccoli steamed.

Broccoli Pasta with Savory Sauce
6 servings

1/2 lb dried pasta - rotini, gemelli, or cavatappi would work well here
1 lb broccoli, cut into florets

16 oz V8 Spicy Hot
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
2 Tbsp tamari soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp harissa
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 Tbsp warm water

Cook pasta to package instructions.  Meanwhile, steam the broccoli in a basket over a half-inch of water in a 2.5 qt saucepan or saute pan for 5-7 minutes, until bright green and still crunchy.  Remove steamer basket and empty remaining water.  Return pot to stove and bring V8 to a simmer over medium-low heat.  Add peanut butter and stir until it has combined completely.  Stir in tamari, Worcestershire sauce, harissa, and vinegar.  Bring to a lively simmer.  Dissolve cornstarch completely in warm water, then pour into sauce.  Raise heat to medium or medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. 

Once the sauce boils and thickens, lower heat to the lowest setting and continue stirring until the bubbling stops.  Stir in broccoli.  Drain pasta and add to sauce.  Stir well to coat pasta with sauce, remove from heat and serve!

Friday, March 18, 2011

nothin' to write home about

Last Meal on the Menu Night is always a risky place to be.  Sometimes, I hold off on a recipe because I've lost interest in it, other times because it was too time consuming to make during the regular work week.  Sometimes I save the best for last and other times I'm not sure how it will turn out so I wanted to leave wiggle room for a replacement dinner.  In any case, tonight's Last Dinner was BBQ-Flavored White Beans with Sausage and Spinach from Vegan Express.

Leaving it for last, in this case, actually was somewhat strategic for two unrelated reasons.  The first reason had to do with how darn long this week felt.  Honestly, I feel like I haven't seen my piano students in two weeks, but I know I taught last weekend because I had a new student start.  The week didn't exactly drag by, but it really took Friday a while to get here.  I wanted to ensure I wouldn't have to put out a lot of effort for the Friday night meal (I was also counting on a lack of energy due to anticipated trouble sleeping last night, since there's an Irish bar across the street and whatnot).  The other reason was that I was a little concerned about the BBQ sauce.  Like I mentioned when I added it to the Sloppy Joes, I wasn't sure how I would feel about using it, unadulterated, as a main ingredient.  The flavor is pretty strong and tangy, which is not at all like the homemade BBQ sauce I usually use in this recipe.  In fact, at some point this week, I was kicking myself for actually buying BBQ sauce when I am perfectly capable of making BBQ sauce I knew I'd like for far less money.

Truth be told, I wanted to buy the BBQ sauce.  I was curious, since I've never actually bought BBQ sauce before, and I had heard good things about Annie's.  I'm glad we tried it, although it wouldn't be a "regular" in our pantry or fridge.  The most amusing thing for me was how perfect the amount in the bottle (12 oz) was.  Apparently, 12 oz = 2 Tbsp + 1 cup, because that was what I needed for the two recipes and that is exactly what came out of the bottle.  I had to shake the last bits out for dinner tonight before rinsing and recycling.

Anyway, all that being said, you really can't get too excited about beans-n-wieners, even if spinach and organic BBQ sauce are involved, so I'm just going to move on to the new menu:

1. Bulgur and Red Lentil Pilaf with Kale and Olives from The Complete Vegan Cookbook.  It's been a while since I've made this, but I just adore the tastes and textures, and it was the main reason I decided to start my dinner-hunting in that book.

2. Curried Bulgur Casserole with Garbanzo Beans, also from The Complete Vegan Cookbook.

3. Tuscan Vegetable Ragout from Vegetarian Times: Fast & EasyIt's been quite a while since I made this and I don't know why - it's quick, easy, and delicious, and if I really wanted to make the effort, it never has to be the same twice.

4. Warm Chickpea Ragout with Swiss Chard, Carrots, and Harissa, also from Veg. Times: Fast & Easy.  See, I'm doing this two-fer theme...two recipes with bulgur from the same cookbook, two recipes for Ragout from the same cookbook...see?  I know, I'm so clever.

5. Garlicky Tofu with Spinach over Pasta also from VT:F&E.  I was a little rice-heavy last week and since the first two recipes this week use bulgur as the grain, I wanted to make a concerted effort to have more pasta for my Mister.

6. Broccoli Pasta with Savory Sauce.  Ditto.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

green beer goggles

I don't actually like beer.  I think that is both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, beer is normally pretty cheap and easy to come by (although it takes way more beer than can fit in my belly to have any effect on me).  On the other hand, it doesn't taste very good, and by avoiding it I am also avoiding pointless calorie use and involving myself directly in scenes like this:

Apparently, shortly before I arrived home from work, there was a huge Irish band across the street, complete with a bagpipe choir and a marching band drumline.  Mister said the drums were making the apartment shake, which did not make our wee kitty happy.  They started up again while I was cooking dinner.  Mister started moaning but honestly, they weren't that bad - I kind of got a kick out them, as long as they kept it brief.  They did.

I never had the traditional corned beef and cabbage before I stopped eating animals, mainly because my family is not Irish and we didn't eat cabbage.  I don't even know what you do to beef to corn it, but it sounds kind of gross.  Nevertheless, I did feel the need to do something Irish and cabbagey for dinner tonight, so I made my own version of vegan corned beef and cabbage (with a little help from my friends).

That's some pretty purple cabbage just steam-simmering away with some garlic and caraway seeds right there.  While it was cooking, I reflected on a memory I might have made up, but I think I remember my mother telling me about the time my sister, as an adult, wanted to make some traditional German meal that involved cabbage and how it stunk up the whole house.  As I inhaled the sweet scent of my cabbage, I wondered just what a person has to do to cabbage to make it smell as bad as other people think it does.  I think the answer is: boil it.  I think as long as you refrain from boiling it for hours, it is just fine.

In place of the corned beef, I sliced a package of Tofurky kielbasa on the bias and then did a quick saute in a bit of olive oil.  Once it was lightly browned, I turned off the heat and finished cooking the cabbage.  Finally, I artfully arranged the "beef" over a bed of Red Cabbage with Caraway Seeds from The Urban Vegan.  

It was a delightful combination of sweet and savory, a little crunchy and a little chewy.  We happily finished it all up while discussing how some famous people manage to have long, fruitful, and relevant careers (think Madonna, Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Steven Tyler) while other celebs enjoyed a phenomenal career until the had some kind of major meltdown and never quite make it back to normal (for example, Mel Gibson, Britney Spears, Tom Cruise, Mariah Carey).

I love Mister's and my dinner conversations.