Monday, June 27, 2011

tonight's winners: Angst and Chorizo

At work, we frequently run little daily contests to inspire our sales agents to do their very best (Silly me, I usually regard that as "work ethic," but what do I know?).  Since our sales department is open from 7am until Midnight, there are a number of shifts that spread across the day, so normally, we'll have a "day shift" winner and and "evening shift" winner.

Angst is our Morning Winner.  I guess.  Remember the struggle of skill and wit that has been playing itself out in our kitchen?  Last night, the score was stuck at Mouse 2, Me 'n' Mister 0.  This morning, the score changed a little... as of this morning, the score was Mouse 2, Me 'n' Mister 0, and Angst Won.  In case I needed a reminder that Angst is neither vegan nor buddhist, stumbling out of the bedroom to find him batting a dead mouse around the kitchen is a great way to remember.  By great I actually mean nauseating and not the best way to wake up.  I was simultaneously proud of him for behaving like a cat and so, so sorry the little mousey wouldn't let Mister and I catch him and release him into a nice, grassy, cat-free area.

Mister was proud of me for disposing of the mouse without waking him up, even though he told me I could have.

Evening Winner

I had intended to make Mama Pea's Chickpeas and Dumplings tonight, but for inexplicable reasons, I walked into a home that was in no way as chilly as I needed it to be to want to make a homey, hearty stew with dumplings.  Mister decided it wasn't hot enough to have the A/C on, which I appreciate as our financial situation could almost always be better, but I have to admit - I disagreed.  Nevertheless, my desire to make the stew was gone with the air, so I opted to make the Chorizo Veggie Wrap from Katie Briggs at Philly Broadcaster.

Freeing the vegan chorizo from the "casing" came the closest I've been to feeling completely disgusted toward meat since...well, since this morning.  I did my best to banish thoughts of dead mice from my visual memory as I squished the bloody red faux sausage out of its plastic tube and into the sizzling skillet.  It immediately smelled the way I thought it should, which was delicious, by the way.  It smelled very similar to the chorizo they use at Farmicia, but as I ate my dinner I became convinced that it is most certainly not the same, since my face has never actually caught fire at Farmicia.

Fortunately, I was generous in my slathering of guacamole.   I didn't realize at the time that it would save my face from falling off; I just really like this guacamole.  It's the best guacamole ever.  It's so good that I have absolutely no problem sneaking up on strangers at Whole Foods and telling them they should buy it because they'll never eat better guacamole.  It's so good I can ignore the frugal side of me nagging about how there's no good reason it should be that darn expensive.  No reason except that it's the best guacamole ever.  So, since I had applied about a half-inch layer of guacamole, I was able to at least partially battle the chorizo for the ethical treatment of my tongue.

The arugula added a fun crunch and a bit of cool, crispness amidst a very spicy dinner.  Unfortunately, it had the tendency to grab hold of something slimy of either the guac or chorizo persuasion and attach that thing to my lips when it slurped past.  In the future, I'll probably chop up the arugula so it just sits there like it's supposed to with its little green hands folded in its little green lap.

Seriously, though, these wraps are phenomenal.  The chorizo was quite a bit spicier than I expected it to be (for no good reason, other than the less spicy nature of the chorizo at Farmicia).  In fact, it was so spicy that I went through two large glasses of water and a small cup of almond milk and Mister laughed at my red nose and sweaty brow.  But, it was so tasty that I still had a second [smaller] wrap [loaded high with mouth-saving guac], even though I knew it would burn my lips.

But hey, that's what chocolate's for, right?

I've found that spicy things make me crave chocolate.  I'm sure there's a scientific reason, but I'm not terribly interested in that right now.  What I am interested in is how Trader Joe's packs so much amazing taste into these little dark chocolate bars?  What's even better?  They sell these 1.65 oz Belgian chocolate bars in three-packs at the cash registers for about half of what I normally pay for one Endangered Species bar.

Good thing I plan to go back for more chorizo....

Sunday, June 26, 2011

a little piece of a national treasure

It is rare that I spend all day fulfilling my grocery shopping list.  Of course, it is also rare that I go alllll the way across town to Trader Joe's - in fact, it's been about 3 years since the last time I set foot in there.  It's not that I don't want to - I would love to be a more frequent shopper, but after today's adventures, I am more convinced than ever that I will not be able to indulge in that fantasy until one of two things happens:
  1. I get a job in center city that allows me enough time on weeknights (purely by virtue of reducing my commute by 2 hours) to stop in after work, instead of trying to navigate SEPTA's horrendous and never-on-time bus schedule on a Sunday, when the buses run half as frequently as they're supposed to which is already on a 75% reduced schedule.  When you do the math, you should probably be able to figure out why it took me all day to go shopping there and Whole Foods.
  2. Mister and I move closer.  Not out of the question, but not likely.  Even if we do, it won't be until March[ish] of 2013.
I'm hoping for #1, but I'm sure I've kind of given that away already.  In any case, after today, if I had foursquare, I'd be the SEPTA Queen.  Forget about Mayor - I passed over that with the third connecting bus.  Granted, this was all kind of a public transit fail, but I did get to and from Trader Joe's twice (I had to go back because I realized when I got home that the cashier keyed something in wrong and overcharged me quite significantly).  Speaking of which, the service at TJ's is pretty stellar - the girl who rang me up was cheerful and conversational and the lady who corrected my payment did so with a smile and without asking for some kind of proof that I didn't buy $25-worth of Blue Danishes (whatever that might be).

In case you're wondering, the purpose of my trip was to get the only vegan chorizo in Philadelphia for one of the recipes I'm making this week.  I figured, though, that as long as I was there, I may as well see if I could score some lower-priced, still-high-quality produce, etc.  That seemed like a good idea when I thought, "hey, the store is on Market St and dozens of buses come down Market St, so I'll just hop on one with my bag o' groceries to get back home."  Refer back to my comments regarding the frequency of bus service on Sunday afternoons if you don't feel like reading about how I carried my groceries about 15 blocks without the assistance of a bus.  And to think I've been complaining about the 7 blocks I now must walk to return from Whole Foods....

Anyway, with a fridge full of veggies, I decided to make the Vegetable Chili Bowl from The Low GI Cookbook.  It was actually written by Margaret Fulton and then contributed to the cookbook.  I had heard her name before, but they say you learn something new every day and today I learned that Margaret Fulton was made a National Living Treasure in 1998.  May we all strive for such lofty goals!

Mister and I dug into our bowls of chili with the help of organic corn chips from TJ's that cost less than the multi-grain Tostitos I usually try to use to assuage my guilty conscience.  It was a tasty little combo and the chips had a lot less salt than Tostitos, which I didn't realize was so overwhelming until I realized how subtly perfect these chips are.  We were pleasantly surprised by this chili.  I have begun to approach the recipes I chose from that cookbook with hesitance and an expectation that it won't be as exciting as I want it to be.  

I'll admit - I'm relieved to be coming to the end of these recipes, but I appear to have saved the best for [almost] last!  The fresh parsley was a nice touch and I was really happy with the way the two beans came out - I don't think I've paired chickpeas and kidney beans in the past.  It's a good, light, summer-appropriate chili, since the peppers make it sweet and the zucchini lightens up the flavor significantly.

With 20 cookbooks, it's no wonder Margaret Fulton is considered a treasure - especially if half of them are as good as this summertime chili was!

life-affirming hippie mumbo-jumbo (and a menu)

It's easy to get bogged down in the everyday nonsense that can follow us around.  It's even easy to allow pointless and uncontrollable stress to follow you around in your dreams (there's no better way to greet Saturday morning than waking up from a nightmare about your boss and his boss bullying you in a TV-Drama-sinister kind of way).  Sometimes, I know I need to take a step back and find some simple joy.  How about you?

It seems like every time I look in the mirror (all these lines in my face getting clearer) I just see more and more non-black hair.  It's becoming inescapable and though I know I've earned it, I'm just not ready to admit I'm old enough to have this darn much silver hair.  Some of my friends, looking at their own non-colored hair, choose to accept and even appreciate it.  These friends are in much more fulfilling moments of their lives than I - one is living her dream as an Assistant DA in Wisconsin, another is an amazing working mom of a beautiful, intelligent, and well-behaved daughter, in addition to putting up with her husband, my friend.  When I see my silver hairs, all I see is time that got away from me and wasted potential (which has always been one of my biggest peeves).

But hey, wait!  Let's turn this around.  When I was younger and browner, I made a decision about what I would do when my hair stopped being brown (this was also before I started dying it every color under the sun).  I said that if my hair came in gray, I would dye it until my final day on earth; if it came in white, I would make my decision when the appropriate time came.  If it came in silver, I decided, I would allow myself to "age gracefully."  See, even as a naive youth, I regarded sparkly silver hair as a thing of beauty.  Imagine my surprise when I realized today that 1/3 of my hair is not gray.  It is not white.  It is silver.  It is beautiful.

It is still going to be dyed for a few more years, though.  I'm too young for this.

Just before this great revelation, though, I had another moment of joy.  Strangely enough, it happened in the dressing room of a clothing boutique.  Many women love shopping and most of those women think I should love shopping, too, since I have such a terrific and apparently enviable figure.  I have not seen it that way - I hate shopping the way men hate shopping, maybe even more.  I go to stores and have either a crisis of conscience (can I really justify purchasing something made in Myanmar or China? Can I ignore the human suffering that allows me such a low price?) or a crisis of body image, but either way, the dressing room is normally not a pleasant place for me.

Regardless, I needed a new dress, one that was professional yet flattering, appropriate but showing my personality (and not my tattoos).  It is nearly impossible to find a size 4 in most grown-up clothing stores and there are not many work-appropriate dresses in the juniors stores, so my method of shopping was something like this:
  • is there at least SOME black on it?
  • is it a size 4?
  • is it made of "real" fabric and tailored-looking?

It feels really good to slip on a non-stretchy size 4 dress and have it fit so well that it could probably even be taken in an inch for a "perfect" fit.

I feel pretty confident that I can pull that off because of how invested I am in making good choices about food.  They aren't always "healthy" choices, but they are balanced and I feel good about the way I eat (most of the time).  Once upon a time, I didn't take so much care of myself and I was 25 lbs heavier than I am now, wearing a tight size 8 (I'm only 5'4").

Speaking of eating....

The newest issue of VegNews showed up in my mailbox yesterday with Portia de Rossi smiling back at me from the cover.  I'm only a few pages in (it's fortunate that VegNews only sends out bi-monthly issues - it takes me about that long to thoroughly read through each issue), but I'm feeling peaceful and inspired by the good others are doing in this world.  It evokes a certain longing in me to also do something that makes a difference, but it takes all kinds of people to make this world turn, and I am not an innovator.  Something special, though, that caught my eye is an amazing thing going on at the Jersey Shore (the real one).

Papa Ganache is a vegan, allergen-sensitive bakery in New Jersey.  Hey!  I can read your minds - you're thinking "Whoop-de-do, another 'special needs' bakery selling $5 cupcakes made of faeriedust and angelwings."  Wait - there's more, though I think faeriedust should be enough.  In addition to making delicious and beautiful baked goods from faceless ingredients, the owner/founder of Papa Ganache is a licensed psychotherapist who has turned her bakery into a social service outreach of sorts.  She gathers up some young folks in need of quality time with quality adults and allows them to work in the bakery, learning about nutrition and veganism, as well as job skills for the future.  If the mentored kids want to, once the program is over, they can remain part-time employees or volunteer their assistance.

If you're in the area, I encourage you to check it out - I know one stop Mister and I will make the next time we head down to Wildwood for some K Family fun.  If you live somewhere really far away from New Jersey, though, at least check out the feature in VegNews - it should make you proud to see what one human can do when she bothers to care.

Another surprising part of the day was falling upon a website that says "happy birthday" to vegan and vegetarian celebrities, including (to my surprise):
  • Joan Jett
  • Brigitte Bardot
  • Kate Winslet
  • Weird Al Yankovic (who is also featured in the new VegNews)
  • Vanilla Ice
  • Anthony Kiedis
  • Katie Holmes (wonder about Tom?)
  • Vanna White (I think that is so awesome...and probably how she keeps her Evening-Gown-Figure for Wheel of Fortune)
  • Steve Jobs
  • Michael Bolton
  • Bernadette Peters
  • Ke$ha (but she's still gross)
  • Olivia Wilde
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Leona Lewis
  • Colbie Caillat
  • Ghostface Killah (I'll admit, that surprised the heck out of me)
  • LaToya Jackson
In other news, Mister seems to be a bit sick, so he didn't want dinner.  I was completely okay with just heating up the leftover po'boy mix and stuffing it into a warmed up roll, so no big fun dinner news, but I do have the new menu.  I didn't get through all of the meals on last week's menu, especially since it was 7 items long, so I'm going to list the items I still have to make, along with our new items.

1. Lentil, Spinach, and [To]Feta Salad from The Low GI Cookbook.  Since it's not very substantial and we didn't have a dinner tonight, it will probably end up as an accompaniment to a more homogenous dinner in need of some green.

2. Vegetable Chili Bowl, also from The Low GI Cookbook.  I probably should have picked up tortilla chips at Superfresh today.  It's been too long since I made chili - I'm out of practice.  We'll see what the selection is like at Trader Joe's (yes, Trader Joe's - story in a minute).

3. Chickpeas and Dumplings from Peas and Thank You.  It's times like these I really wish I'd convinced Mister to move to the Pacific Northwest or at least California/Nevada/Tahoe, because it's just too darn hot in Philadelphia right now for me to get the motivation to make this no matter how incredibly tasty I expect it to be.  And yes, we do have our A/C on, but I haven't turned it cold enough to make this yet.

4. Soy Chorizo Veggie Wrap from Philly Broadcaster.  Honestly, a blog about What's Happening in Philadelphia was the last place I expected to find our dinner recipe, but there it was, along with a specific location for the vegan chorizo I've scoped out the whole city to find.  Well...the whole city except the place that has it: Trader Joe's.  So I'm planning to take a bus across town to get at least the chorizo, but as long as I'm all the way over on 21st and Market, I may as well see if they have anything else I need.  It will lessen the load I have to carry on my back from Whole Foods, as well as the price tag - TJs tends to be a little less expensive than WF, which is helpful right now (weekend before paycheck day).

5. Jerk Seitan on Coconut Rice, both from Vegan With a Vengeance.

6. Lemony Garlic Chickpea Patties from Vegan on the Cheap with Middle Eastern Chopped Salad from Vegan Express.

7. Pasta Puttanesca from Vegan Express, possibly with the lentil salad, but probably with a roasted green veggie (broccoli/asparagus - cost will decide).

I'll leave you with the pretty and amusing image that left work with me last night.  The weight loss counselors do funny little things from time to time for no reason other than to raise/maintain morale among the employees.  This Friday was Mocktail Day - they made alcohol-free Bay Breezes, Mimosas, Fuzzy Navels, Shirley Temples and a few other things.  Because I actually started my career with the company as a counselor myself, they hold a special little place in their hearts for me, so when I came out of the training room, located in their wing of the building, no doubt looking haggard and worn, they stopped me so they could make me a mocktail.

So, there is my Shirley Temple in a coffee cup, complete with two maraschino cherries and a paper parasol.  It was a sweet thought and a nice "appetizer" to whet my appetite for the Tempranillo-Merlot that would accompany dinner...ah, Friday.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

critter petting zoo

This is a great apartment - really it is, but seriously - this place is Critter Central.  After a generally blissful, critter-free existence for the last six years in our tiny apartment, it seems like we found us a wildlife reserve here and I'm wondering if that is one of the reasons for the exceptionally low rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in this part of town (I'm thinking the Meeting Place for the Socially Challenged across the street is another reason).  Presently, in addition to the fuzzy lump we actually want living here, we have one adorable but gotta-go mousy friend, a flock of fruit flies who are trying to hijack my wine (I've already explained to them that I work far harder than they do for my wine) and a spider that might have been helpful in getting rid of the flies if he weren't too darn lazy to build a small web.  Having not accomplished his purpose, Mister escorted our eight-legged free-loader out of our home.  Mister also set a trap for the mouse:

Yup.  A plastic box, set upside down and propped up by an old, empty jar that used to hold Alba facial moisturizer with a piece of cardboard acting as an appetizer plate for a Mouse-Feast of peanut butter.  I tried to tell Mister that this is not a cartoon, but he insisted it would work.  So twice now, the mouse has gone in there and won.  First time, he ran in, grabbed the PB and pulled it out with him before we had a chance to catch him - mouse 1, us 0.  Then, we set it up again because the mouse dropped the PB plate and after a long, patient, barely-breathing staring contest, the little bugger decided to press his luck.  Just as he made his move, I made mine...and Angst made some kind of clattering that made the mouse turn around and run away.  Mouse - 2, us - 0, Angst - in the 'dog'house.

We decided our little friend needs to hit the road.  There are just too many gruesome ways for him to die here and traumatize me in the process.  I would share some of those ways but you don't want to hear about them any more than I want to think about them and even less than I want to actually experience any of them.  Since part of dinner involved roasting, I checked the inside of the oven before preheating it.  Then it started to smell like burning, so I yanked open the door and peered inside with a flashlight, fully expecting to see something that would make dinner a moot point (for lack of appetite), but there was no mousy (thank heavens).  After dinner, we spent enough time waiting to catch the mouse that Friday night's post will have Saturday's date, so just remember, kids - I haven't slept yet, so it's still Friday.

Anyway, as I was coming home from work tonight, I got to thinking about a great many things, but the only one you're interested in is dinner.  Trust me.  I really thought it would be neat to make an entire menu from the cookbook my company is hawking.  Appetite for Reduction made it seem like "diet food" could always be a culinary treasure, but I'll be honest - despite my attempts to make these dishes sound fabulous, I'm a little less than impressed.  The only flavor most of the recipes I've made so far have had came from my own inability to put only 2 cloves of garlic into something or my enjoyment of tweaking flavor elements.  It's not all bad, necessarily, but I have definitely lost my excitement for this cookbook - the pictures look far more attractive and appetizing than the finished product tastes.  I still have a few recipes to go and I do intend to finish them, but what this is all building up to (fortunately) is that I improvised to such a point tonight that I could not say, in good conscience, that I actually followed the recipe for the White Bean Salad in the cookbook.  The reason this is fortunate is that it doubles the recipe fun!

I am not at all ashamed of how excited I was to use my new BBQ sauce, given to me by a member of our chefs' council.  I was a little worried about the heat, but it turned out to have just the right amount.  It's a bit tangy and neither sweet nor savory BBQ sauce, but it is certainly good and I would actually purchase it in a store if I could find it.

I decided to go for a southern-style meal, at least where the BBQ sauce is involved.  The "salad" ended up being relatively Mediterranean, but I think most of my salads either end up that way, or a mix of hippie-commune-meets-Neiman-Marcus-urban-legends, so no big surprise there. 

Roasted Veggies with White Beans
yields about 4 appetizer/side dish servings

1 pint grape tomatoes (organic, if you can)
1 lb asparagus (normally one bunch)   
 15 oz can of white beans (cannellinis were pretty darn good), drained and rinsed (do you really even need to say that anymore?)
2 Tbsp high-quality olive oil
1-2 tsp Mediterranean sea salt blend (to taste)
1 tsp red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Break the ends off of the asparagus stalks and slice into 1" pieces, on the bias if you want it to be pretty.  Slice the larger grape tomatoes in half diagonally and leave the little ones whole.  Drizzle asparagus and tomatoes with 2 Tbsp olive oil, sprinkle with 1 tsp of the salt blend to start, then toss to coat.  Roast for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Now would probably be a good time to start the other half of the recipe, if you're making both (see recipe below).  Once the asparagus is beginning to shrivel a bit and the tomatoes are beginning to burst, remove from oven and add beans and as much as 1 more teaspoon of the salt blend, along with the red wine vinegar, and toss to coat evenly.  Allow to sit and cool while you prepare the po' boys.

Seitan-n-Slaw Po' Boys
serves 6, one po' boy per person

16 oz seitan in broth, drained and sliced very thin/shredded (baked seitan will not work here - I used Michael's Savory Seitan)
10 oz bag of confetti slaw (or other slaw)
2 Tbsp canola (or olive) oil, divided
1 Tbsp tamari/soy sauce
3-4 Tbsp all-natural, spicy BBQ sauce, divided
1/2 tsp pomegranate molasses (or dark agave nectar)
6 long sandwich rolls (about 6")

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large, deep skillet on medium heat.  Add confetti slaw, stir to coat with oil and then cover.  Allow to steam-fry 5-7 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally.  Remove from pan and add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil and turn heat to medium-high.  Add seitan and stir to coat with oil.  Cover and cook until seitan begins to brown and oil has been absorbed - about 5-7 minutes more.  Once the seitan has browned to your liking, add about 2 Tbsp of the BBQ sauce and stir to coat the seitan evenly.  Allow to cook one more minute, then add the slaw and stir to coat everything with BBQ sauce, adding more 1 Tbsp at a time until all the seitan and slaw is well-coated in BBQ sauce.  Drizzle on the molasses/agave and stir to combine.  Remove from heat.

If you'd prefer, you can heat the rolls in the oven - it should still be hot from the Roasted "Salad," so you won't need to heat it up.  Once they are warmed/toasted to your liking, slice lengthwise, taking care to leave a substantial "hinge."  Gently pile about 1/2 cup of the seitan-n-slaw mixture into the roll.

Serve with "salad" and enjoy!  You want pairings?  How about a nice Merlot-Tempranillo blend or South African Pinotage with dinner, and finish with a digestive of anisette, sipped slowly from a decorated cordial glass?

Bon appetit!
(can anyone translate that to Creole-French?)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

big fat butter beans

Have you ever eaten butter beans?  I hadn't.  I knew I'd seen them in stores, yet I still had some difficulty finding them and spent a little time pondering what would be an acceptable substitute if I couldn't find them.  Never fear, though!  The Bastion of Beans (Goya) would never let me down, so I did leave Superfresh with two cans of butter beans.

In case the "intro" didn't give it away, we had the Parsley, Butter Bean, and Cherry Tomato Stew from The Low GI Cookbook for dinner tonight.

I don't know why this surprised me, since the cookbook does actually have some very attractive pictures of almost every recipe, but butter beans are friggin' huge!  They were bigger than the half-moon slices of Tofurky sausage I added for substance!  They were bigger than the halved grape tomatoes (which were actually quite large for grape tomatoes)!  Texturally, they were kind of like really big cannellini beans - definitely a creamy center.  A person might even say they were "buttery," which is how I imagine they got their name.

"Hey - HEY!"
"Have you eaten these beans?"
"No, why?"
"They're so....buttery!"
"I'm going to call them butter beans."
"Good call."

That's the naming conversation.  It's acted out in my head by two cavemen who greatly resemble the characters in B.C., except hairier.

Anyway, all said, it was a pretty good stew, which I served over surprisingly fragrant brown basmati rice.  This actually happened - I was standing at my counter, chopping veggies, when an enticing scent invaded my nostrils.  I looked all over for the source of this scent before realizing it was the rice.  True story.

Although I found the size of the butter beans a bit disturbing initially, they really did help with the intense flavor from the sausage.  Without the added sausage, though, I'm not sure this would have been quite as happy a dish.  It smelled very strongly of the 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon I added in and I feel like the taste would have been overwhelming if completed by the 1/2 tsp of sugar I forgot to add and did not include the savory notes contributed by the sausage.

It's a very attractive dinner and it smelled fabulous while cooking, but I can't say I'll rush to put this on the table again.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

weight loss never tasted so good

Relax, Mom, I'm not on a diet.  However, tonight I did cook from a diet cookbook [again].  I took a short break last night to make Granada Paella from The Urban Vegan and I am continually surprised by how astonishingly tasty it is!  There are relatively few foods I could eat so fast (from enthusiasm) that I would give myself a bellyache.  This is one of them.

It's a shame it doesn't look as good as it tastes. I think part of that is due to my negligence in checking the frozen veggies before I went shopping, so there were no frozen peas to add, keeping the dish a generally red and beige combo...not exciting.

I've noticed something about my shopping/menu planning.  There are certain things I take for granted - I just assume certain things will always be there.  As a result, I have found myself in the same position I was in last night more than just a few times.  In my brain, though, frozen vegetables reproduce in the freezer and all of my herb/spice bottles are magical and bottomless.

My empty jar of basil begs to differ.

Regardless, tonight brought us back to The Low GI Cookbook with Chicken [Seitan] and [Baby] Bok Choy Stir-Fry. 

This meal, amusingly enough, looks far more delicious and fun than the Paella.  Looks are not terribly deceiving, either.  While I certainly won't say that this recipe would make me choke in my excitement to pile it all in my mouth, it is extremely tasty, simple, and Second-Helping-Mister-Approved.

I had to make a few tweaks, obviously, as I mentioned when I constructed the menu.  For this meal, seitan replaced the chicken (and I'm pretty sure it improved the dish both nutritionally and taste-wise).  I also used my favorite brand of rice vermicelli to replace the egg noodles called for in the recipe.  Finally, I needed to replace the oyster sauce and it seemed to me that the best way to do this was to sub my vegan Worcestershire sauce.  My tastebuds agreed.  I have never actually eaten 'real' oyster sauce to my recollection, so I have absolutely no idea what it tastes like, but I do know that Mister and I were mutually pleased with the way the sauce came out.

Our little friend also seemed excited about dinner, since he came out of hiding and made a quick dash across the back of the sink to the stove to check out the pot while we were eating!  Although Angst seemed pretty sure the little bugger was hiding behind the toaster over this morning, we were starting to think he'd found his way out.  I think Mister is waiting for it to starve to death and just hoping he finds it while I'm at work and can dispose of it with no tears.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I just want something I can never have

I seem to always have one of two things working against my culinary adventuresome-ness.  Either I don't realize that an ingredient is super-bizarre and not likely to be hanging out on the shelves of your average Whole Foods, or in some strange subconscious way, to challenge myself, perhaps, I seek out recipes that use esoteric ingredients I may very well never need again.

You wouldn't really think that fava beans would fall into one of those categories, would you?  Well, maybe the first - the one where I didn't think it was all that strange an ingredient.  After all, they were the star of a very famous line in a very famous movie in the not-too-distant past.  Nevertheless, much like my extensive Hunt for Harissa, my attempt to make a meal involving what I thought was a relatively common Italian vegetable took me all over the city before I finally secured the magic ingredient.

Many thanks to DiBruno Brothers in Rittenhouse Square for having just enough amazing things to also have the thing I was seeking.  It had fallen over on a top shelf, but I found it and made it mine.  Actually, the harissa was also hiding on a top shelf.  Does that say something [aristocratic] about my tastes?  Maybe it just means I should be taller.

So, the bag of dried beans didn't exactly say "Fava Beans" but I figured Fava Anything was closer than I'd gotten previously, so I brought them home, soaked them last night, and boiled the heck out of them tonight.  To my great delight, I appear to have successfully revived them and made them a part of our dinner: Tuscan-Style Beans with Tomatoes and Sage.

I served them over the leftover Pasta e Fagioli because I didn't feel it was necessary to make new pasta when we hadn't finished that yet.  Additionally, there seemed to be a slightly disproportionate ratio of beans (cannellini + fava) to tomatoes, so I figured it was probably a nice touch to use pasta that already had tomato slush on them.

Unfortunately, entirely due to the base, Mister thought we were having leftovers for dinner and was very surprised when I pressed him for a reaction to the meal.  After he explained that dinner was leftovers and I explained that only the base was left over, he explained that he thought anyone who would eat just beans and tomatoes for dinner was quite out of his/her mind, thereby confirming my suspicion that this meal needs a base.  As they go, I think pasta was the best option, but perhaps a fresh, bigger pasta would be better in the future.  I thought small was the way to go, but after Mister's reaction, I'm reconsidering.

I need to be in a pretty special place to actually listen to the song that inspired the title of what was otherwise a fairly jovial post, so if you're interested, click here. You go on and check it out.  I'll hang back here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

change for the better

I had a really great day today.  I got up early to teach, but that didn't quite happen (summer always gets a little sporadic in terms of student attendance) so I was just super productive instead.  I got so much done that I completely forgot it was Saturday and was about to start whining about how "I don't waaaant to go to work tomorrow," when suddenly it dawned on me: tomorrow is Sunday.

Today was both productive and an exercise in adaptation.  I'm teaching!  No, wait, not teaching, so... I'll go food shopping!  I'm going to make an exciting recipe for dinner tonight because I have a fridge/cupboard stuffed with tasty vittles!  No!  Horizons is closing two weeks from tonight, so... we're dining at Horizons!

I love Horizons.  I'm so sad it's closing because I know we won't go as frequently when the new location, further into Center City, opens.  At the moment, anyway, since I spend almost every minute of my week commuting to or being at work, when we do venture out (which isn't all that often, though we've been trying to get out more), we tend to stick pretty close to home.  So when Kelly tweeted that she was eating at Horizons tonight and that the final evening would be July 2 (two little weeks away), I folded up my menu and called for reservations.

I was set on eating everything I hadn't eaten yet, so even though I love the Salt Roasted Golden Beets, BBQ Seitan, and Grilled Asparagus Salad, I was determined to start the meal with a new appetizer.

So, we started our meal with the Olive Board, which wasn't so much a board as it was a square plate, but I'm not going to pick nits.  There was a perfectly-portioned baby ramekin of mixed olives, marinated to perfection with garlic, herbs, and vinegar.  Beside it was a small butter cup of kalamata tapenade, ideal for dipping the lightly salted, dense and crispy breadsticks and thinly sliced carrots and zucchini.  There were also some pickled vegetables, but we (even Mister!) weren't so excited about those.

For the first time this year (and probably the last) we were able to sit outside, enjoying the company of Mazy the Little Gray Pitbull.  She was so precious.  I shot this picture while she was worriedly looking inside the restaurant to see where her mommy went (ladies' room).

As usual, Mister got the Grilled Seitan on Grilled Spinach and Yukon Mash with a red pepper coulis on top.  It looked ever more attractive than usual and it nearly made me regret my choice.

I've been hemming and hawing over the Pacific Rim Grilled Tofu, topped with turnips and concealing a base of edamame puree on top of a miso sauce.  My main concern has always been that the gochujang lacquer would be too spicy, but it was tangy, just as our waitress promised it would be.  I was happy that I ordered it and got to taste it, but I wasn't kicking myself for missing out all these years.

Once again, the portions were perfect to allow us room for their delightful dessert menu.

Mister got a double decaf espresso to go along with his Lavendar Cheesecake with blueberry smash and ancho peanuts.  At Kelly's suggestion (inadvertent, albeit), I chose the Chocolate-Stuffed Beignets with Iced Coffee Float

For the uninitiated, the beignets are basically fried doughballs, coated in powdered sugar, with a gooey dark chocolate center.

I was planning to join Mister in his after-dinner espresso, but when I saw that the beignets were accompanied by a coffee float, I refrained.  I did, however, tell him that when we come back for closing night, I want him to remind me to get an espresso with the Bittersweet Chocolate Tart (which is divine, but certainly requires coffee to calm the intense chocolatey-ness).

Fortunately, since I was so productive today, running all over the city, weighted down by heavy bags at least half the time, I probably burned off at least a few calories in advance.  Besides, we have a relatively calorie-conservative menu this week.

A few words of explanation: all of these recipes (except the last one) come from a cookbook I don't even own, enhanced at times by additions that came from my very own brain.  The cookbook that inspired these meals is The Low GI Cookbook, which happens to be available as a "special edition" being sold by the weight loss company that owns my days.  Our recent visit by the chefs who are laboring to enhance our program and foods to be at the top of the industry inspired me to show a little company pride and construct my whole menu from this book.  Obviously, since it's written for omnivores, a little tweaking was necessary here and there, but it wasn't too hard to find some delicious-looking and creative meals.  My only foil was the desire to make a new Mama Pea "recipea."

1. Tuscan-Style Beans with Tomatoes and Sage served over small pasta

2. Lentil, Spinach, and [To]Feta Salad using the tofeta recipe from HIAV.

3. White Bean Salad, served with po' boys (no, no, I could not resist the opportunity to use my new BBQ sauce, but at least you'll get a recipe out of it for the first time in months).

4. "Chicken" [Seitan] and [Baby] Bok Choy Stir-Fry - This recipe appears to be made for seitan, and I'm actually pretty sure my version will be better than the original as a result.  There were no "adult" bok choy at Whole Foods today, so just got twice as many baby bok choys.  The Curse of Bok Choy continues, apparently.

5. Parsley, Butter Bean, and Cherry Tomato Stew, which will most likely be served over rice.

6. Vegetable Chili Bowl which is far enough from a soup that Mister should let it slide.

7. Chickpeas and Dumplings (yes, a bonus recipe! AKA, I had a little trouble counting) from Peas and Thank You.  This looks so incredibly tasty I don't care how hot it gets this week.  I'll just turn the air conditioning way down low, throw on a cozy sweater and get to simmerin'.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

the dinner that almost wasn't

Would you believe I nearly changed my mind at the last minute?  Would you believe, after all my odes of affection and volumes of sonnets for the wonder that is Punjabi Peppers and Tofu, that I nearly pushed it aside tonight in favor of something completely different?  Choices, choices - a divine Indian dish created by two Canadian vegans who make edgy non-leather purses or Texas BBQ?  And what disparate choices they are, aren't they?

I'm sure you'll be relieved to know that I made my old favorite instead of doing something adventurous and intrepid (and far more blog-worthy).

But it's just so good!  Besides, I was a little too brain-drained to come up with something creative and worthy of my prize.


I have mentioned before (at least a few dozen times) that I work for a weight loss company.  If you have any Google skills at all, the information I'm about to share will tell you what I wont (that is, which company).  There are two parts to the story - the first one, I may have mentioned, is that this week was devoted to employee appreciation so there were little events and giveaways all week.  The second part is that last December, we started working with a group of chefs from all over the nation - Miami, my beloved Tahoe, Texas, New York City, and of course, a local fellow representing Philadelphia.  All of these chefs have been on Bravos Top Chefs and Masters programs and they have all been acclaimed as outstanding in their field - in fact, the Philadelphian chef was just awarded "Best Chef Mid-Atlantic" by the James Beard Foundation.

He's very friendly, too.  I know this because today I had the privilege of meeting him, as well as the other four chefs who make up our culinary council.  They came to "visit" on the last day of Employee Appreciation week and cooked up a storm of low-calorie, healthy, delicious food and then let us eat it.  The offerings were still weighted in favor of eating animals, but here is what I could eat (and did, with gusto!): a sprout salad with fresh peas, radishes, broccoli sprouts, broccoli slaw, and a bunch of herbs (there's nothing quite like biting into an entire leaf of fresh cilantro), tahini hummus, grilled vegetables (mainly peppers), grilled pineapple (unbelievable!), and fresh salsa with tortilla chips.  Can you believe there was a ton of meaty "delights" in addition to all that fun?

Another part of employee appreciation has been little tokens of thanks, mysteriously appearing on our desks each morning.  It's a fun thing to walk into, I'll admit.  I'm a little sad that all I'll walk in to see on Monday is my desk and all the work I have to do.  Anyway, apparently, they were saving the best for last because today's little thank you took the form of a bottle of barbeque sauce.

It's not just any sauce, though - it's all natural and made by one of our celebrity chefs in Texas, where they definitely know BBQ.  There were three flavors distributed throughout the company: I got Ancho Chili (and I'm a little worried about the heat, but we'll see - tofu has a very fortunate heat-calming property that should balance it out), but others got Peach or Teriyaki Honey.

People at work were intrigued by what I would possibly find to put BBQ sauce on.  They relaxed a bit after I shared that it goes very nicely with baked tofu, sloppy joes, and beans and that I have been in the habit of making my own BBQ sauce so I shouldn't have any trouble finding something to do with it.  Quite the contrary - I'm so excited about it (allow me five minutes of company pride) that I nearly ditched one of my favorite meals in order to play around with it.  I finally decided that I wanted to specifically design a meal around it and that I was way unprepared to do so tonight.  Mister and I think it might be fun to hang onto it until July 4th and then do something really spectacular with it.

Good thing July 4th is two weeks away, because I have absolutely no idea what that will be...

Friday, June 17, 2011

double-decker leftovers

That is a lot of leftovers.  Unless Mister goes on some kind of pasta binge tomorrow/this weekend, I will bet we're still wading through these a week from now.  You know a dish yields a lot when you can portion out some above-average dinner portions and still have so many leftovers that one of your biggest containers won't hold it all, so you have to get a second container to fit them all and you're still smushing the lids on.

It started out simply enough, with a wish for Tuscany and a willingness to "settle" for Montepulciano and mixed olives, alongside homemade (albeit primarily canned) Italian dinner.

There's something so heart-warmingly rustic about a pot of white beans simmering with crushed tomatoes, garlic, and marjoram.  My mouth is watering just looking at that.  Also, I anticipate a similar picture later next week (menu foreshadowing, anyone?) and I'm already excited about it.  And yes, for reasons that will be revealed when I unveil the new menu, I do already have next week's menu planned.

Anyway, tonight was the magical night that I reprised Clara's Pasta e Fagioli from The Urban Vegan.  I neglected to add a cup of broth and I'm wondering if that's why it wasn't as flavorful as I remembered it.  Either way, it was still good.  The main reason Isa's recipe surpassed this one as my favorite is due primarily to the fact that the recipe in Veganomicon actually involves dicing my own fresh tomatoes.

But dear Lord, it sure does make enough to feed a Greek family.  And I mean the whole family.  And still send them home with leftovers, probably.  Good to know for future cooking events...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

a bean is just a bean

I'm gonna make this quick because I have to get up earlier than usual and my internet connection is being stupid and that is immensely more frustrating than it would be ordinarily due to the huge and unnecessary amount of stress trying to strangle me.

Tonight's dinner was Veggie Goulash from La Dolce Vegan.  We haven't had this in a long time because I repeatedly forget how good it is.  Granted, when you look at the ingredients, it's easy to see my hesitation.  It just doesn't seem like this is going to end well: carrot, zucchini, tomato, cauliflower, and pinto beans?

Doesn't it look incredibly tasty, though?  That's because it is.  I always forget what a good simmer in some garlic-laced, paprika-spiked broth will do for a melange of vegetables.  I did make a couple of adjustments due to budget issues (or, you could just say I'm frugal to a fault?).  Fresh cauliflower is stupidly expensive when I only needed a relatively small amount, so I bought a block of frozen cauliflower.  Although I'm pretty good at stretching frozen veggies packed in bags, I'm not so good at figuring out how to protect a cardboard box from freezerburn, so I just threw all 10 oz of cauliflower in there.  I'm pretty sure Mister didn't mind.  I also subbed Great Northern Beans for the Pinto beans.

Pinto beans would have been a little creamier, I'll grant you, but I cannot figure out this weird recent phenomenon at Superfresh.  For reasons unknown and probably illogical, for the first time I've ever seen, Goya brand beans are much more expensive than store-brand beans.  The brown rice is actually more expensive than Carolina rice.  I don't get it.  So, since Superfresh was having a Great Northern Bean sale (5 for $3!), I bought 3 cans of those instead of a can of Pintos ($1.07, which doesn't seem like a lot, but for beans??  really???), and two cans of cannellinis @ $.89 apiece. 

That's all for now, kids.  It would have taken me half the time to write that (or I could have written twice as much) if I didn't have to wait 15 seconds for the damn pinwheel to stop spinning after every second sentence.  Hopefully, tomorrow's better.  See you then!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

go ahead, surprise me

What an unusual day.  It was absolutely chock-full of surprises - some good, some not so good.  Why don't we start at the beginning?

My goal for the next phase of my life is to not need a back-up alarm.  I'm sure you can imagine, my first alarm is annoying, but not nearly as annoying (or far away) as my second alarm.  That's the point, of course - terrifying incentive to get up and out of bed before Mister is awakened by the super-irritating noises my cellphone makes to nag me out of bed.

You would think waking up to a breakfast like this would be incentive enough, wouldn't you?  It would be, if it didn't greet a day that found me making my way out to another glorious day at work, knowing that this will probably be the most special part of my day.  And it was special - like I mentioned yesterday, those strawberries are ineffably incredible and need to be eaten in generous quantities and frequently.

Also, every now and then, there aren't many things that are more amazing than a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel dripping with melted Earth Balance.  Except a toasted everything bagel similarly decked out along with a row of perfectly ripe, organic strawberries.

When I got to work, there were two more surprises waiting at my desk.  The first surprise was found on my desk - an adorable star-shaped lollipop in red, white, and blue (it's Flag Day and as part of Employee Appreciation week at work, we get themed surprises and also honored employees who served in a branch of the military).

The second surprise took the form of an unexpected email announcing the promotion of one of my colleagues - this is both awesome and enviable.  He works very hard and deserves recognition for his efforts.

In a final pair of surprises (at least for the work day), we had a new class of new employees start training yesterday.  Today is normally the day that I blow their minds and they usually return the favor.  This group did not let me down.  They did surprise me, though, in two ways.

New Hire #1 shared her experience from her previous position at AARP - she said that the older folks she spoke to who were healthy and disease free in their advanced years all had one thing in common.  Are you ready?  I know this will blow your mind: they all either followed a vegetarian diet or ate plenty of fruits and vegetables (in addition to meat).  Who's surprised?  Raise it high!  No one?  Yeah, me neither.

The next surprise truly did catch me off-guard.  A lovely woman in the class, I'm guessing she's in her mid-50s, shared the secret of her gorgeous, gray-free hair and it was not what I was expecting.  She said she takes a teaspoon of unsulphured blackstrap molasses every morning and it reversed the grays she did have and now her hair is all blond like it was in her youth.  Considering how expensive it gets to keep up my dye-job, I think I'm going to try it.  The worst thing that happens?  I get a teaspoon of important vitamins and minerals in my morning tea and my hair is still gray.  Not a bad worst-case scenario (except for that whole "hair still being gray" thing). looks like my class is teaching me, doesn't it?

Dinner tonight was Vegetable Biryani from La Dolce Vegan.  It started out with a fun little spice medley:

And ended up (after some excitement - keep reading) as a tasty little supper:

I think it could use maybe a little more salt.  The only reason I say maybe is because the scent of the spices starts to take over and flavor the food about halfway through and then you can taste more complexity.  It does have to build up, though, and sometimes, I just want dinner to be tasty immediately.  Patience, Grasshopper.

So, while I was cooking, suddenly there came the wretched, loud, annoying, and terrifying sound of a fire alarm, followed by the sight of the occupants of the building next to us emptying out onto the sidewalk.  Mister went out to investigate while I shoved Angst into the bathroom so I'd be able to find him if we needed to evacuate.  Turns out the people on the top floor set their kitchen on fire, but were able to extinguish the blaze before the fire company showed up.  I really hope it just took a while for someone to call them, because if their response time started from the beginning of the alarm, I am pretty sure our whole building will be engulfed in life-destroying flames before they find their way to our home.  After all the excitement, I finally put dinner on the table and told Mister about my fabulous day.

We haven't see the mouse yet tonight, but Angst had a horrible day, so I hope his little friend pops out to say hi at some point just to make him happy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

another day, another dollar [saved]

This has nothing at all to do with the rest of this post, but I thought you might be interested to know that Angst has spent more time in the kitchen lately than I have.  It started a couple of nights ago.  I was sitting here at my computer, clickity-clacking away, when I spied something out of place in my peripheral vision.  I turned to see what was awry with just enough time to see something that appeared to be small and gray and possessing a tail skitter away.  Angst chased his new friend under the dishwasher and then sat there for the rest of the night, waiting for his little buddy to make another appearance.  Honestly, it happened in such a flash, I couldn't be sure if it was the cute little mouse I thought it was or a really big cockroach.  Obviously, my vote was for the former.

No appearance was made by Angst's little friend, who only popped his little head in during the heaviest part of the recent rainstorm, so Mister and I assumed he had found his way back out to wherever mice in the city live (probably someone else's home?).  Then, just a few minutes ago, I noticed Angst was stalking the stove, staring quite intently at various parts of it.  Nothing says "Exciting Monday Night" like this: the cat was staring at the stove and I was staring at the cat and occasionally glancing at the stove.  Then it happened: a tiny, gray, fuzzy head popped up out of one of the burners and looked around.  He popped back down after I may or may not have exclaimed something relatively unholy...

He's good at hiding, so who knows how long he'll stay, but I'm not letting Mister kill him, so we'll see what Angst ends up doing.  He likes mice.  We had one at our ghetto apartment and he used to hang out by the stove and wait to pet it.  That mouse was much bigger than this one and he never did me any harm, so I don't see why this one needs to meet an untimely demise.  I'm just glad he turned out to be a mouse, not a 'roach.

So about that dinner... I didn't end up making dinner last night since we didn't even get home from the wedding until almost 7pm...and then we took a short nap.  Around 11, we both broke into leftovers and then went to bed.  Very exciting, I know.  But that's why I made Coconut Curry Rice from Vegan on the Cheap tonight.  I was a little surprised by how amazingly flavorful it was, for how simple a recipe it is.  I was completely astonished, though, when the brown rice actually did cook in the coconut milk.  As I was adding the rice to the dish, I thought to myself, "No, no...this is a mistake."  It took a little longer than I wanted it to, but it was well worth the wait.  I served it with some garlic naan.

Besides the normal savings earned by my diligent use of Vegan on the Cheap, this meal saved us money by helping me create the illusion of tasty, authentic Indian food right here at home.  Last night, I found myself craving a trip to Lovash for their amazing samosas, crispy poppadums, and startling spices.  However, right now I am both making an attempt to scale back our unnecessary expenses, as well as devoting any "extra" food money to our final trips to Horizons before they close.  All in all, a very "cheap" evening, which leaves more cash for a trip to Horizons in the [hopefully] near future.

A few other cash-savers included attending Employee Appreciation at work today.  Due to the stylish and healthy way we celebrate things, we had vendors with all kinds of health foods, served from little red kiosks under white-and-red striped umbrellas.  Here's the rundown: sno-cones, cotton candy, popcorn, smoothies, and soft pretzels (it's a "Philly" thing, as one new hire who recently moved here from Massachusetts pointed out).  Even though I know there is nothing natural or worth eating in that yellow flavoring they put on popcorn, it doesn't change the fact that it smells incredible and tastes as yellow as it looks, so I treated myself to some. I couldn't tell you the last time I had that kind of carnival popcorn, so I was able to justify it.  I also had a pretzel and would have had a smoothie, but the line was way too long.  So, there you go - afternoon snack taken care of with no added expense to me!

Finally, I managed to sneak off with about a half dozen "fresh" bagels for Mister's breakfast this week (probably me, too....I mean, they're free and they're bagels - what's not to want?).  One of the nighttime supervisors has a team member who works at Manhattan Bagel during the day, so he frequently brings in the bagels that would have gotten thrown away.  He had a haul of about 4 dozen bagels, so when my colleague invited me to help myself, I certainly did!

Here is your money-saving tip o' the day: although cherries are now increasing in price again, Whole Foods is blowing out organic strawberries at $3.50 a carton - they are so incredibly red and smell so good, you will do yourself a serious disservice if you let this pass you by.  By the way, not only are they extremely attractive - they taste like the best strawberries you've ever had. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

livin' easy on the Rue du Sud

Mister and I are not big Francophiles.  That whole trend certainly did not escape us, but it did not endear the French, their culture, food, drink, or diplomatic decisions to us - quite the opposite.  Unfortunately, when Philadelphia was bursting with Love for All Things French, pioneered by a specific demographic of which Mister and I are also not fans, Jacques Chiroc had made some very Anti-American moves, so we felt like the appropriately patriotic thing to do was to ignore their existence as a country.

We did feel like things went a little too far when people started renaming a Belgian invention "Freedom Fries," but all in all, we felt fairly justified avoiding French imports...ironically, including P.Diddy-pimped adult beverages.  This became a little trying as one of my favorite bars hopped on the Frenchie-Train, featuring 6 out of 7 reds from France...  I drank a lot of Shiraz that year.

Once the excitement of the moment had passed, there were still a load of French restaurants and bars that had popped up and managed to stay in business.  I think crepes are funny but Mister will have no part of them, so we'll still never see the inside of Beau Monde.  As fun and intimate as it looks, Bistrot la Minette has entirely too many animals on their menu for us to venture in for a meal.  We were actually invited to dine at Coquette (when it was still open) by the owner, but $17 for a lentil tian was too rich for our Greek-Irish blood, even with the promise of free champagne.  La Croix was fabulous and I have trouble remembering a more pleasurable dining experience (aside from almost every time we go to Horizons), but we cannot afford to go there when not under the cover of my in-laws' relentless generosity. 

Mainly, though, the reason we steer clear of French food is because Mister finds it insulting to his masculinity.

So, it was with a little trepidation that I embarked on a dinner of Provencal Black-Eyed Peas with Asparagus from The Complete Vegan Cookbook, but I really thought it would be a fun dinner to make and I wanted to see if I've had my Herbes de Provence long enough for them to turn gray and lose all flavor and scent (and yes, I do recognize that I should have checked that before I went shopping for ingredients...just in case they were...).


Not only were my Herbes de Provence just fine and quite excited to join the dinner party, but Mister so enjoyed his French dinner that he took a decidedly unFrench portion size for his second helping.  I love plating our dinners.  I always try to make a pretty little bed of the pasta or rice or couscous, in this case, and then artfully swirl the scoop of veggies on top, even trying to shape them into a small pyramid at times.  Then, Mister goes back for seconds and comes back with a travesty of presentation with globs of food all over his bowl or plate. 

Hey, I'm just happy he liked it.  Me?  I loved it, too.  Since we're not in the habit of eating French-inspired flavors, I was a little taken aback by the pungent herb mixture, specifically the crushed rosemary, which is most certainly an acquired taste that I haven't worked very hard at acquiring.  At the last moment, just before stirring in the fresh parsley, you make a tiny little cornstarch/arrowroot slurry and mixed it in to thicken the sauce - I think that really pushed it over the edge in terms of savory pleasantness.  I'm not sure "pleasantness" is a word, but if it is, it's an ugly one.  I just couldn't think of a better way to express it.

Couscous, the base upon which this Provencal ragout was served, has a tendency to continue expanding once it's in your stomach.  This is, of course, enhanced if you got hot while food shopping and ended up drinking three glasses of water before dinner and one with... So, Mister and I were feeling a bit bloated after dinner.  My solution is to get up and move around so I can encourage the couscous to digest and get the heck out of my stomach; Mister takes a more European approach.  He naps with the kitty.

Look at the murder in those eyes!  It's as though he's saying, "Stay away.  He's my Mister.  Mine."  I think he was really just angry that I took a flash picture, actually.

Anyway, tomorrow we have Cousin's wedding and I'm hoping that at least for the hour or so that the wedding is supposed to occur, it can be dry for her outdoor wedding.  However, I am listening to the music of a thunderstorm right now, so I'm afraid the ground might be irreparably soaked by noon tomorrow even if it does stop raining.  I'm sure we'll be hungry for dinner later, though, since the wedding is so early in the day, followed immediately by the reception, so I still anticipate dinner stories, hopefully with a touch of magic interwoven.

That being said, I did shop for the new menu today since I didn't think there would be time tomorrow:

1. Clara's Pasta e Fagioli from The Urban Vegan.  Although Isa's recipe for Pasta e Fagioli is the reigning champ, having stolen the spotlight from this recipe, we must remember that this was the champ for a while for good reason.  I felt an unusual longing for this recipe, so I decided to grab that book off the shelf.  I cannot wait until the new cookbook comes out - there are so many fabulous recipes I can't wait to see in print and reprise!

2. Granada Paella, also from The Urban Vegan.  I figured as long as I was in the cookbook and as long as I loved this recipe so much, I may as well make this delightful recipe again.

3. Veggie Goulash from La Dolce Vegan.  It's been a while since I've played in this cookbook, mainly because I know that every time I open it, I feel compelled to make...

4. Punjabi Peppers and Tofu (also from La Dolce Vegan).  What can I say that I haven't said already?  I could probably cook this every week and not get bored of it.  That's a lot coming from someone who strives to make something different so frequently that she only repeats recipes semi-annually sometimes...

5. Vegetable Biryani, also from La Dolce Vegan.  I've only made this biryani once, but it was easy and tasty, so I figured, why not make it again?

Hopefully, I will have some fun pictures and an entertaining recap from the wedding!  See me tomorrow!  :)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

longest week ever

I know I say this every Friday, but I am SO glad it's Friday and I'm home from work for two days.  Have you ever had one of those weeks that just never seemed to end?  It never happens when you have a ton to do and need more time, right?  Nooo... you only manage to squeeze that 25th hour in when all you want is for the day/week to be over.

I'm excited to be going to a cousin's wedding on Sunday - let's hope it doesn't rain!  I can't wait to see what a lovely bride she'll be and I'm thrilled with this completion of her family.  Her husband-to-be is a great guy - a true gentleman and a good father/provider.  They are such a great couple and I am delighted to be a part of the day they officially commit their lives to one another.

I wish I could say that was the only reason I wanted the week to pass quickly, but as you may have picked up from recent posts, things aren't going so well at work.  An image comes to mind...

Anyway, I really hit a wall last night.  Well, maybe yesterday in general.  Usually, I just have to give my brain/soul a little pep talk on the way to work, but my body cooperates with my efforts to force myself out of my home, onto the train, up the stairs, and into the cube farm.  Yesterday, even my body rebelled and I literally had to use my arms to force my legs to carry me into the office.  Yes, I do know what the word "literally" means and I do mean to use that word.

I narrowly avoided being whipped up into the Dark Clouds of the Apocalypse that chased me to the train on my way home, only to observe the hail hitting the windows once I was safely on board.  I didn't think it was supposed to rain until today, so I had no umbrella.  Fortunately, I found a very kind and amusingly chatty cab driver to take me home from the train station.  Obviously, my plans to coerce Mister into a dinner outside at Horizons (or even just Stella) were rained out, but I had absolutely no desire to cook.  At all.  Possibly for the rest of my life.

In case you were wondering, this is what dinner looks like on those nights.  It kind of looks like a jello mold, but with farfalle and purple cabbage, wouldn't you say?  It looks about that appetizing, too.  Fortunately, after a brief braise with about 1/2 cup of vegetable broth and a generous sprinkling of the Mediterranean Sea Salt, it tasted just fine.

I'll admit, though, it was kind of fun watching the perfectly molded leftovers escape the container in which they'd spent the last few days.

Tonight, though, I was perfectly and happily aware that it is Friday.  I made a little deal with God toward the later part of the afternoon.  It went something like this: "please don't let it rain until I have made it to the wine store and home safely."  There really wasn't any "and then I'll do this for you," part, unless you want to count my silent agreement to not throw a temper tantrum on 5th Street.  Fortunately, God loves me anyway; in fact, God loves me so much that it's still not raining.  Maybe we can make a deal for Cousin's outdoor wedding on Sunday?

With some help from an almost-missed treasure on the bottom-most shelf of one of the foreign wine sections, I gathered the ingredients for a hearty, flavorful, and elbow-grease-intensive Pasta Puttanesca with Artichokes, from The Complete Vegan Cookbook.  In addition to enlisting the assistance of my newly acquired bottle of Nederburg Pinotage (which I haven't had in about 10 years!), I got to snip some leaves off of my pretty, aromatic, kitty-seducing basil plant (which I have craftily hidden in the one windowsill he hasn't discovered yet).

I was a little worried about the contribution the artichokes would make, since I was supposed to get frozen, rather than canned (but did not).  Fortunately, since the artichoke hearts were simply soaking in salt water, rather than brine or marinade, they were actually somewhat overpowered by the pungent sauce.  I also used more red pepper flakes than I'm usually comfortable adding, which added a fun little kick in the throat.  This was good and I can certainly see myself making this again, but at this particular moment in time, I can't think of anything that makes this sauce outstanding against many other puttanesca recipes I have.