Monday, November 28, 2011

flashbacks are fun!

Everyone have their Flashback Hats on?  Okay, hold on tight - here we go!

It was sometime in the autumn of a day in the mid-1990s.  I was in college, sitting in my dorm room.  It was later in the evening, I'd probably just finished some homework and had no other plans for the evening. I was hungry, but all food options on campus (aside from the healthful options in 1990s vending machines) were closed down for the night.

What's this?

My eyes fall on a plastic milk-crate beneath my nailed-to-the-wall desk.  It's packed to the gills with all kinds of "food."  When I shipped off to college, a group of dear friends had assembled this Care Package for me, full of strange and exotic foods I'd never eaten before.  Well, okay, I'd had PopTarts on the rare occasion my mother was willing to permit them as a breakfast treat, but never artificially purple frosted Wildberry PopTarts.  By the way - they're revolting.  If you've never had them, there's no reason to start now.

I pulled the crate out in to the glow of the flattering fluorescent overhead light and poked through the contents for something that would qualify as Substantial Food.  Finally, I pulled out a plastic packet which I pulled open to reveal a brick of dried "noodles" and a packet of seasoning that I think was supposed to taste like chicken.

That's right.  Ramen Noodles.

I had never had them before, but I broke the brick into smaller bits, sprinkled the seasoning over top and filled the bowl with hot water.  It was love at first slurp.

I can't even imagine what my body thought of the extraordinary sodium increase, but 10 (or so) pounds later, the love affair began to fade...

Don't fret!  There is still time for a happy ending!

So a few months ago, vegan ramen started being a new foodie trend and for the first time, I learned that ramen is not just a 10-for-$1 phenomenon that prevents college students from starving at midnight (while raising their blood pressure and increasing their waistlines).  NO!  It's also a normal, everyday Japanese dish, ordinarily made with a savory (albeit animal-based) broth, plenty of fresh veggies, and long slender noodles.

Imagine my delight upon paging through Celebrate Vegan for this week's menu to find that Dynise had included her own ramen recipe.  Tonight's dinner, then, was the ubiquitous Ramen Noodle Bowl from that very same book and it was far more delicious than those bricks of dry noodles soaked in reconstituted broth could ever be (no matter how long I'd been writing a term paper, preparing a speech, or studying for a test).

I don't know why the picture is green - all I can think of is the reflection from the placemats?  Anyway... per the recipe instructions, I simmered ginger and garlic in a vegetable broth, along with carrots, green cabbage, broccoli, and green onions, topping it off with cappellini noodles standing in for those old, crumbly bricks (and also, because of a sale, the box of cappellini cost less than a six-pack of prepacked ramen noodles).  It was delicious - Mister and I both slurped up two bowls with reckless abandon for our waistlines or blood pressure, and although I'm sure we could do without the concentrated sodium in the cubes of Rapunzel bouillon I used for the broth, I'm sure we could have (and have) done worse.

I was impressed with how much more flavorful and, for lack of a less pretentious word, complex the broth and noodles were.  I'm not going to pretend that the cabbage added some je ne sais quoi, but I will say that the drizzling of toasted dark sesame oil to finish the dish did so with such a flair, it's hard to believe someone would bother simplifying all that jazz to sell by the penny to poor [stupid] college kids.

By the way - if you're wondering where the Freshman Fifteen comes from, it's not the beer Freshmen are too young to drink legally - it's from the Ramen their parents willingly buy them to get them through all-night study sessions (which really do happen!).

klutz in the kitchen

You would think I didn't know my way around a kitchen.  You'd think I've never cooked before... or measured anything... or stirred a pot.  If you haven't been following this blog for the last couple of years, you might think I was just learning to cook from the way I was dropping things and tossing things around tonight.

You know, it's ridiculous - I took a couple of days off from my kitchen and it's as though I've never handled a measuring spoon or a spatula before.  I spilled water, poured salt all over the counter, knocked rice on the floor, and dropped at least two measuring spoons.  I tossed bits of spinach all over the stovetop and God forbid I transfer the coconut milk from the counter to the pot without dumping some of it on the skillet and pan-frying tofu in the process.

Fortunately, it all came together (after a little swearing and a lot of stooping) to make Sag Paneer from Celebrate Vegan.

I'll be honest, I was not all that impressed, after all my hard work (of spinach-slinging, salt-spilling, and rice-scattering).  It was really rather bland, despite the addition of the maximum amount of salt (plus a little, probably) and the shallot-garlic-ginger base.  I caught Mister trying to be subtle as he snuck more salt onto his second serving and unabashedly doused both servings with a generous amount of hot sauce (at my suggestion).  I did not have an opportunity to test this before the cookbook was published, but I wish I had so I could have suggested a ton more flavor.  One of my favorite parts of Indian food is the almost overwhelming 'spiceyness' and flamboyant flavors - those aspects were disappointingly absent from this recipe, making me glad as heck for the overboard flavors in The 30 Minute Vegan's version of this Southern Asia staple.

Angst still seemed to think he urgently needed to share Mister's dinner...

"This is my Imploring Face"
(note the paw on Mister's knee) 
"Please, Mister, I NEEDS!"
So, Black Friday I came home and ate leftover Spanakopita and leftover Apple Pie.  Saturday I slept most of the day, drank some coffee, got another make-up delivery, and then went out on a belated Anniversary Dinner with my hubby because....

...Vedge finally opened!  Hallelujah, folks.

I took a bunch of pictures, but it's possible that Vedge is even dimmer than Horizons was, so none of them came out.  Here's the synopsis:

I started out with an Apple Cide Car, per the power of suggestion from Dynise's review of the Friends and Family night.  With dinner, I enjoyed a nice glass of Dolcetto.  The server explained that the Chef suggests three plates per person and that the menu lists plates in order from light to heavy.  To share, Mister and I ordered our old favorite from Horizons - Truffled Fingerling Fries, a newsie Crispy Cauliflower with Kimchee Mayo and an order of Roasted Baby Broccoli from their "Dirt" list (today's fresh veggie sides).  I elected to try a new dish, despite many of my favorites from Horizons making a slightly altered appearance on the menu - Steak-Spiced Tofu with squash, chanterelles, and a few other unidentified vegetables.  I can honestly say that this dish marked the very first time I have actually found mushrooms enjoyable.  I will not be seeking them out any time soon, but it was nice to not have to eat around them.  Mister stuck with what he knows, ordering the Grilled Seitan, even though it came on a bed of beluga lentils with some mushrooms surrounding it.  It was so refreshing to be able to order and eat anything on the menu.  The delightful thing about the small plates thing Vedge is doing is that it enabled us to order and enjoy dessert without feeling like total pigs (and since it's much further from home, the walk back helped burn off a few calories).  Mister, as usual, got Fig & Quince Cheesecake and discarded the fruit.  The figs tasted kind of "green" and the quince was middle-sweet.  I would have left them on, myself.  I got the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Pumpkin(-spiced) "ice cream" and loved every warm, melty bite.

As a side note, Angst helped me finish the blog post tonight and Mister took pictures:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

still alive - be thankful!

I know other bloggers have gone far longer than a week without a post, but I am not normally among them so it feels like forever.  I hope you'll excuse my absence, considering how busy I've been preparing for Thanksgiving and Black Friday - or I should say it like this:

  1. the first Thanksgiving (or holiday at all) that I've hosted in my own home!
  2. the first Black Friday I've worked retail in fifteen years.
Fortunately, both went off pretty well, yet both were fairly stressful in the days leading up to them.  Additionally, I just haven't felt like I had anything interesting to say.  I realized recently that one of the reasons I've found blogging to be so much fun and so fulfilling in the first two years of this little blog was because I was still learning how to cook new and interesting things, so I was always trying to make something I hadn't made yet so I could come up with a unique post.  Over the last several months, I've found myself perfectly happy to repeat "favorites" from the last few years, and although I only rotate recipes every few months, I still didn't have anything interesting to say about making "this" dish again.

Here is a quick recap of my Celebrate Vegan mini-menu:

The two pasta dishes (Pasta with Shallots and Chard and Pasta with Red Peppers and Basil) were just like I remembered them - relatively easy with a ton of flavor.  Neither of them made as much as I thought I remembered, but believe me, with Thanksgiving coming up, there was no place in our fridge for leftovers anyway.

I made one new recipe from the book I wasn't able to make before because it needed tweaking for Mister's intestinal safety, the Jambalaya and it was quite tasty and fake-meat-alicious!

So let's switch gears.

There's a lovely song by Josh Groban (which you can hear a beautiful cover of here) with the following lyrics:

Some days we forget to look around us.
Some days we can't see the joy that surrounds us.
So caught up inside ourselves, we take when we should give,
So for tonight, we pray for what we know can be,
And on this day we hope for what we still can't see.  
It's up to us to be the change,
And even though we all can still do more...
There's so much to be thankful for.

I'm thankful for a great many things, not the least of which being how well my first Thanksgiving as the cook and hostess turned out!  Here was our menu:

When my parents arrived, we set out mixed olives, veggie crudites with Muhammara (from Celebrate Vegan) and store-bought dill dip (thanks, Mister), and Spanakopita (from The Accidental Vegan).  The main course was a Torfurky Roast which Mister has wanted since his first non-meat-eating Thanksgiving and I was thrilled to be able to give it to him.  Alongside the Tofurky was mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli, and my mom's becoming-famous salad, then dessert was Apple Pie with Vanilla "ice cream" by So Delicious.  Dad brought two delightful bottles of my favorite wines - Apothic Red and the 2009 vintage of Georges deBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages, as well as a four-pack of mini-champagnes "for after work."

Oh?  You wanted a picture parade?  Okay!

I began my preparations on Monday or Tuesday night, starting with the Muhammara dip since it would taste the best after sitting in the fridge for a few days.  I figured it was best to make it the same night we had Pasta with Shallots and Chard since my home already stank of an onion sibling (and since I already had the book out).  After simmering three chopped red peppers with a chopped onion and sliced garlic for an hour, I dry-toasted some walnuts,

And then placed everything in the blending machine...

and pureed it until it was mostly smooth and homogenously orange.

After it cooled a little, I scooped it into a "tupperware" and stuck it in the fridge, to be forgotten until Thursday.

Wednesday night, I intended to make the spanakopita because I've found that it sticks together better if it's made the night before it's eaten.  So I chopped up a shallot to substitute for the revolting onion in the recipe and sauteed the onion and spinach while the lentils cooked.

Added the brown lentils (I'm not actually sure why, either)

and then a big heap of crumbled feta tofu,

and stirred it all together.

This is where it gets fun.  By the time I started making this, I'd only worked one eight-hour day at work (the others went long in preparation for Black Friday) and after that 8-hour day (of being one half of the sales force, since one person got sent home with an eye infection) I had a 2.5 hour hair appointment (oh, how I missed you, Candi KaBoom!), so I really wasn't on my most... "with it" behavior.

I realized after all the work of assembling the spanakopita, including gluing sheets of phyllo together with olive oil while listening to the darkly angelic voice of Amy Lee through my earbuds, that I had missed one step of the two-step process required to preheat my ancient oven.  So, finding (at 2am) that my oven was still cold after it was "preheating" for 30 minutes, I covered the spanakopita with plastic, put it in the fridge and went to bed.

It came out just fine when I baked it the next morning.

Then came the piece de resistance.

Mister's long-awaited Tofurky Roast, complete with wild rice stuffing.

I put it in a little Corningware casserole dish and surrounded it with quartered potatoes and carrots, then poured half of the sage marinade over it and stuck that puppy in the oven.

It's not a real puppy, by the way.

appetizers - from the top: Muhammara, Dill dip, olives

more apps: Spanakopita, crudites

The Torfurky, all basted and roasted and ready to eat!

Sides: mashterpaters, roasted broccoli, and the canned
cranberry "sauce" Mister insisted we needed

I realized in a panic a few days before Thanksgiving (and a few days after I constructed the menu) that I had completely neglected to get/make gravy.  In an incredible (and incredibly fortunate) coincidence, my dear Mama Pea posted this recipe to save my butt.  It was good and easy to make in a pinch, but a little too thick to become a regular occurrence in our home, so next year we'll think ahead and find something a little more pourable.

Next year?

That's right!  It seems my parents enjoyed themselves enough to consider sharing the holidays - with any luck, that means I will always host Thanksgiving and they can have Christmas :)  In any case, thanks to my hard-working dishwasher and helpful husband, it didn't take all that long to clean up after dinner, allowing me to get to bed by nine(ish) since I had to be up at 3am to go to work.

In case you were wondering, Philadelphia is incredibly quiet and peaceful (and dark) at 5am.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

celebrate tweakin'

When I first started cooking from cookbooks, I was strict to the letter.  As time went by, I found I had to tweak things a little, either because they contained onions (which make my breath sad) or eggplant or mushrooms (which make Mister sad).  The more I cooked, the more comfortable I became with tweaking, so that now I can even mix together two recipes the way an artist my blend a few paints on her pallet (though I'm usually surprised when they come out this well)...

Last night's dinner was Easy Manicotti Alla Romana from The Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook.  In case you were wondering, there is actually a way to further simplify a recipe with "easy" in the title.  Ironically, but maybe not unexpectedly, the shortcut came from another recipe for Cheese Manicotti on the back of the pasta box.

Just as I was gearing up to be annoyed by the extra step (and extra time) of having to boil the manicottis first, then stuff them with the awesome filling (verrrrry carefully so they don't break apart) before covering them with marinara sauce and baking them for 45 minutes, I saw my little miracle: according to the manicotti box, I could stuff the nice, dry, rigid pasta with the stuffing without boiling it first, and all I had to do to ensure they were not still rock hard when they came out of the oven was add a cup of water to the marinara sauce!

It's so exciting when that nonsense is true.  The spinach and "cheese" filling was also quite flavorful and good.  The cookbook almost had it right without my help, but they wrote for me to add a 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese to the tofu "ricotta" so I substituted the same amount of nooch.  The final tweak involved spinach.  For reasons I will probably never know, the author of the recipe felt like it needed a ratio of 48oz of frozen spinach to 10oz of tofu.  Mister's eyes almost popped out of his head when I shared that and he was quick to agree with me that two 10oz blocks of spinach were far more fitting to the 14oz block of tofu.

Yesterday afternoon, I spent a lot of time flipping through pages and furrowing my brow and then thinking I had everything figured out until I consulted with Mister and found that I was doing it wrong.  Well, maybe not all of "it" but certainly some of it.  I figure that there will probably be plenty of people grabbing last minute Thanksgiving things on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, and I don't want to be one of them, so I wanted to plot out my Thanksgiving menu along with the regular week's menu and shop for the whole lot over the weekend.  Now seems an opportune time to share the "normal" part of the upcoming menu, since dinner came from it...

1. Cottage Pie because I still haven't made the seitan and at this point, I may just buy it.

2. Farfalle with Shallots and Chard from Celebrate Vegan, because I have been waiting to remake this for nearly a year and now I have my new cookbook.  By the way, the rest of this week's abbreviated menu comes from Celebrate Vegan so I'm not going to bother writing it again.

3. Pasta with Red Peppers and Basil because this is also a super recipe that makes Mister happy.

4. Jambalaya, because I need another jambalaya recipe like I need another beans-n-rice recipe or another pasta e fagioli recipe, but the ingredients were just so intriguing and this was a recipe I did not have the opportunity to test.

Why not, you ask?

When Dynise communicated her desires and expectations to the whole group of us testers, she requested that we make the recipe exactly as written and then make it a second time if we felt the need to tweak it.  I completely respect that, since she won't know how a recipe she wrote came out for someone else if they don't use the recipe she wrote, ya know?

As a result, I did a lot more cooking with onions than I was used to, or comfortable with, but in the course of doing so, found that it's not always a terrible thing.  In fact, being "forced" to follow her recipes without what had become a natural inclination to tweaking was delightfully education and helped me to expand my repertoire further because I used ingredients I would never choose on my own.

Nevertheless, there were many recipes I could not test because they contained an ingredient to which Mister was allergic or had an aversion.  Now that I have the cookbook in its completed form, I can find substitutes for tempeh and mushrooms so Mister doesn't end up in the emergency room or wake me from a sound sleep with his moaning and wincing.  I can sleep through a police raid outside our window but I can't sleep through the aftermath of feeding Mister tempeh.

Fortunately, my tweak-creative mind was able to find an adequate substitute for the tempeh bacon I was supposed to use in Dynise's delightful Jambalaya in the form of Hickory-Smoked Tofurky deli slices.  I just unwrapped the whole stack and "diced" the slices - it was possibly even easier than if I had used tempeh bacon with the added benefit that tonight won't be the night I'm widowed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

free Beaujolais? mais oui et merci!

So, tonight was the Midtown Village Beaujolais Nouveau festival, honoring the third Thursday of November, when the Beaujolais Nouveau is introduced to the waiting (and aware) world.  It involved 12 restaurants serving Beaujolais-soaked entrees or appetizers (or maybe just constructing a specialty cocktail involving Beaujolais, like the Sangria at the Stephen Starr Mexican joint) and 9 area retailers (including my store) offering sales and complimentary tastes of the new vintage.  Some highlights?

  • Beaujolais risotto
  • Beaujolais-braised short rib pizza
  • Beaujolais-inspired chocolates
  • Beaujolais soap and lip balm
  • and my favorite... Beaujolais jello shots
There were several other things, but those struck me as most outstanding and interesting.  I was working for the first two hours of the festival, but when my shift ended, I headed out to see what was still going on.  I entered Duross & Langel and was treated to a dixie cup of 2011 Beaujolais Nouveau and a complimentary tin of Beaujolais lip balm (it kind of smells like cherries, but whatever - it was free and makes my lips feel shiny).  They have some amazing handmade soaps in there and I will almost definitely return for the holiday shopping season - this stuff is great for that person who has everything because they are both novel and expendable.

After sniffing to my heart's content (and wishing things had price tags), I gave my empty cup to the jovial young man who had given it to me when it contained a swallow of wine and headed out the door. I wandered next door to Paper on Pine, owned by a neighbor of mine and a lovely woman (who also patronizes our shop).  As soon as I came in, the owner recognized me and gave me a more generously-poured plastic cup of 2009 Beaujolais-Villages (which wasn't exactly the point, but it is considered Georges deBoeuf's Vintage of a Lifetime and it's one of my favorites) to sip on as I chatted with her and wandered around her delightful little store.  I ended up with a lovely card and some stationery.  I will undoubtedly revisit her establishment not only for Christmas shopping but for many other things (she does custom-printed invitations and announcements, too).  As I was paying, she asked if I wanted more wine - what a lovely woman!  Alas, it was time to go home and make dinner, so I just stopped into my "local" wine store and picked up my own bottle of 2011 Beaujolais Nouveau to enjoy over the weekend.

It was only by reminding myself that payday is tomorrow that I was able to prevent myself from calling the newly-opened Vedge for reservations.  I've waited this long...

Nevertheless, by the time I got home, it felt too late to start making a dinner with an hour and a half of cooking time, so I decided to wing it!

Mister and I had a field day trying to come up with a cookbook-worthy name for this creation, but unless anyone would like to volunteer something a little snootier, we're going with

Pasta with Green Veggie Marinara
6 generous servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
5 medium cloves of garlic, pressed
generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 bunch of asparagus (roughly 1lb), bias-cut into 2" pieces
10oz frozen spinach, thawed
24oz prepared marinara
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a sauteuse on medium-high heat.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes, then reduce heat to low and saute, stirring frequently, 3-5 minutes, until golden.  Add asparagus and stir well to combine with garlic.

Cover pan and raise heat just slightly to make the asparagus sizzle a little.  Saute 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta of your choice (my choice was penne) according to package directions.  When the asparagus is tender, stir in thawed spinach.

and then add the marinara and stir well to thoroughly combine.

Simmer, uncovered, 5-7 minutes.  Drain the pasta and season the sauce with salt and/or pepper to taste, then toss the sauce with the pasta and serve!

Enjoy!  (with some Beaujolais Nouveau...)


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

your daily b*tch(es)

Last Christmas [I gave you my heart - come on, sing along!], my sister(in-law) gave me a wonderful gift.  It's a gift I get to enjoy every single day, and I'm not talking about her brother.  She gave me a Skinny Bitch daily calendar.  This means that every day there is a new nugget of wisdom, served up with a side of KickYourA$$ and sometimes a tall glass of Reality.

I actually took it to work and had it on my desk at my old job and my former boss used to get almost as much joy from it as I did, so after I left, if the Wisdom Nugget was particularly useful, I would email him and always use the title Your Daily Bitch.  Lucky you, you get a double dose.

B*tch #1: working an 11-hour day because Black Friday is coming and apparently that means we have to rearrange the entire store.  Fortunately, I adore my new colleagues and there was generous "overtime compensation" provided by the Pres: gourmet pizza (including an incredible tomato pie with jade-green pesto swirls) and high-end beer (but I drank Smirnoff Ice because I don't like beer and I missed being trashy).  Nevertheless, my feet hurt and I'm exhausted, so this is kind of my way of copping out.

Which leads to....

Bitch #2: brought to you from a particularly useful day on the Skinny Bitch calendar that now lives on my desk at home:
THIS IS YOUR LIFE!  Live it to the fullest with reckless abandon.  Seize the day.  And do it again tomorrow.  Live.  Go get your dream job.  Search for your dream man.  Fear nothing.  Try everything.  Be excited.  Dance.  You'll never get yesterday back, but today is yours for the taking.  Make it great. (my emphasis added)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

hurts so good/Mister saves the day

I truly don't know how these things happen.  I thought I was finally finished my food shopping when I walked out of Trader Joe's this evening, only to get home and start making Granada Paella from The Urban Vegan and discover that I was short a red bell pepper.  I don't know how many times Mister has gone out after I started making dinner to get something I was missing (tortilla chips, refried beans, spinach, to name a few) but we can add Red Bell Pepper to the list.

He came back with a brown paper bag and my spidey-sense* told me the red pepper was not alone.  Indeed, after Mister pulled out the pepper, he smiled and reached back into the bag and gave me chocolate, "because you ran out."  What a sweetheart! because I did eat my last mini-chocolate bar from the halloween candy last night.  I thought it was sweet that he wanted to be as vigilant about my dark chocolate supply as I am about his bread supply.
*spidey-sense: the magical ability of wives to know beyond any shadow of doubt that their husbands will return home with at least 1 item more than they were sent out to get.  I inherited mine from my mother and that's why my dad isn't allowed to go to Pepperidge Farm unchaperoned.

Anyway, I recognized that Mister was probably about to be even more helpful as I was cooking dinner.

I love this recipe - truly I do - but I keep forgetting how now that I make it correctly, it burns my face off.  This is normally how dinner goes when I make this:
Bite 1: mmmm....tasty, but hey, that's a little spicy!
Bite 2: umm.....
Bite 3: chokecough
water break
get a few more bites in: face starts to feel a little hot around the ears, eyes, and nose
water break
few more bites: nose starts running
wipe nose
water break
few more bites: now my tongue and lips are burning at a steady rate, almost ignorable
few more bites: can't quite feel my tongue
Time for 2nds! (can't help it - it tastes so good it's worth the pain)
grand finale: my nose is red, my ears are red, my nose is sniffly, my lips are burning and my tongue is nearly numb... and my husband, who by now has plowed through three bowls without blinking or taking more than two sips of water, is laughing at me.

As I've learned previously, the best way to treat these "symptoms" is with dark chocolate.

Thank you, Mister

Although Angst initially showed some interest in dinner, it didn't take long for him to decide he wasn't terribly interested in whatever was making his Lady disintegrate, so he found something else to be far more interesting than our dinner time talk about dubstep. [By the way - if you want to see something incredible, click here and prepare to hold your breath for about 6 minutes.]

Inside that large Williams-Sonoma bag live some other, smaller paper bags.  Just before we sat down, Mister added the little brown sack from Essene to that bag, but Angst really wanted it.  This is the last in a series of pictures of him climbing into the larger bag to snuffle at and try to retrieve "his" bag.

my bag.  mine.

Monday, November 14, 2011

perfect timing!

I never realize how many e-magazines and other lifestyle websites have my email address until this time of year.  This past week, I've been bombarded with emails from Real Simple, Martha Stewart, and probably some others, on how to have a healthy, happy, full-of-variety, outside-the-box-but-still-traditional, cholesterol-free, chocolatey Thanksgiving.

I do actually intend to pick through each and every email, especially since I get to host Thanksgiving this year!  This is mega-exciting for me.  One of the biggest reasons Mister and I moved from our old closet to a slightly larger one (think "dressing room," folks) is because I love to entertain but had no space to do it in our old apartment.  I am so excited about Thanksgiving, I've even managed to block out the anticipated trauma of Black Friday (the first time it's mattered in 17 years).  I will be wandering off shortly to sift through emails and websites and.....

My new cookbook which arrived just today!  Woo hoo!  This is probably one of the best Mondays ever: my make-up came out great and garnered several compliments from customers, my dad came to visit and we made plans to have Thanksgiving at my home this year, I sold more than anyone else in the store (closest person "behind" me was over $2000 behind), and I came home to Celebrate Vegan, the long-awaited second cookbook from Philly's own Urban Vegan, Dynise Balcavage.

I'm sure you can imagine the sole source of next week's menu.

I will be posting a review of this book, just in case I haven't already enticed you into purchasing your own copy.  Hey - Black Friday Christmas is coming!  Time to make those lists!

Ironically, I made my favorite recipe for Sloppy Joes last night, and I remember thinking, "Gee, I hope I get my new cookbook soon...I love these sloppy joes, but I could just drool thinking of those new recipes [that I haven't beaten to death and will do again tomorrow night]."

In fact, tonight's dinner was Farfalle Rotini with Cabbage and White Beans from Vegan on the Cheap and when I saw that I had the new Celebrate Vegan and a pile of shallots, I almost abandoned dinner to remake this sure-to-be-classic/heavily-rotated recipe.  I was too busy daydreaming to take pictures of tonight's dinner, but let me assure you, the most interesting part was Angst wishing he could overturn one of our dishes and steal all the "slimy," wilted cabbage.

It's a good thing I have so many more tasty things left on this week's menu, because I'm already looking forward to plotting next week's (and Thanksgiving! so off I go).  Sweet dreams are made of this!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

no olives tonight

It's a pretty safe bet that Mister and I eat olives almost every day.  They are nearly always an accompaniment to our primarily Mediterranean dinners, so the only times I can think of that we don't have them at the table is when I make an Asian-inspired dish or we're out...which I usually try to time so they fall together.  We did not eat an Asian meal tonight, but we did not eat a Mediterranean meal either... in fact, for many reasons, tonight's dinner was entirely unsuited to olives.

I personally have never seen olives in a pub (unless it's a fancy pub with martinis)...

And tonight I made my Mister his veganized Bangers and Mash:

4 Tofurky Beer Brats
1/2 stick of Earth Balance (or measure 1/4 c from the tub)
1 tsp olive oil
4 large shallots, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp fresh thyme (or scant 1/2 tsp dried)
1/2 to 3/4 cup of red wine
2 cups vegetable broth
1 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 Tbsp warm water
and for the mash...
2 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into manageable chunks
2 Tbsp Earth Balance (1/2 of what remains from your earlier stick or measure from the tub)
1/3 to 1/2 cup unsweetened soymilk (or nondairy "milk" of your preference)

makes 4 servings

To make the gravy sauce, slice the shallots nice and thin, then press the garlic over top of them.  Melt the Earth Balance in a deep saute pan and add the olive oil.  Dump the whole pile of shallots and garlic into the heated oil 'n' EB and stir it up good, being sure to break up the rings of the shallots.

Cook for about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the sugar, stir to coat, and allow to cook another 2 minutes or so.

Sprinkle on the thyme (quick tip: the easiest way to remove fresh thyme leaves from their stalks is by pulling the stalk through your finger(nail)s against the growth of leaves) and pour in your red wine.  Cook gently until reduced to just barely any liquid.

Pour in the vegetable broth and turn up the heat to get it to boil.  Once the stock is boiling somewhat rapidly, turn down the heat so that it's still bubbling gently.  Allow to cook until it's reduced by 80% - this took me about 30 minutes - stirring now and then.  When the gravy is appropriately reduced, stir in the Worcestershire sauce and then the slurry of cornstarch + water.  Turn heat to high and stir constantly until the gravy reaches a fierce, bubbling boil, then reduce heat slightly and continue to stir while it boils gently a few minutes.  Remove from heat.

Now, while you had those 30 minutes that the gravy was reducing, you should have been chopping the potatoes, putting them in a pot and covering them with water + 1", then boiling them until fork-tender (it took me about 10 minutes, but I chop small).  When the potatoes are done, drain them in a fine mesh colander and then dump them in your favorite Martha Stewart Blue mixing bowl.

Add 2 Tbsp of Earth Balance and start with 1/3 cup of soymilk (you can always add more).  Sprinkle on however much salt you think is appropriate (I went with a heaping teaspoon), then mash with a potato masher or fork (or even an electric mixer if you're feeling spunky) until smooth and creamy, adding more milk if necessary.

To serve, place one Tofurky Beer Brat on a plate (you're welcome, Mister), and lay a mountain of mashed potatoes beside it.  Place the gravy bowl on the table with a pretty little ladle and allow your dining partners to put it on their own plates, to taste.

It came out really good.  Mister was thrilled and I was very happy with my heaping mound of mashterpaters.  Mister and I once again remembered that we didn't know which hand held the knife, but we figured it was probably safest for the dominant hand to wield the sharp, pointy utensil.

As I'm sure you can imagine, Angst was also very excited about this "meat and potatoes" dinner.  He was so big-eyed and daring in his begging that Mister couldn't even be mad at him and even gave him a few pieces of his beer brat.

I can't take full credit for this recipe.  Since I was previously unacquainted with Bangers and Mash, I did do some internet research and was delighted to find the UK version of our Food Network, so the recipe above was inspired by and loosely based upon this one, penned by Ed Baines of Market Kitchen fame.

I got some lucky charms

When I was a kid, my mother and I had a continual struggle over one particular breakfast cereal.  My sister was frequently my accomplice and when we teamed up, we frequently won.  We wanted Lucky Charms - what kid wouldn't?  First of all, when we were children, they had a great marketing campaign, complete with animated leprechauns and colorful marshmallows.

this is the actual 1980 box design

Second of all, the cereal was almost half marshmallows!  Granted, the other half was flavorless, grainy, mushy-in-milk cereal shaped to imitate those colorful, sugary, artificially flavored nuggets of heaven, but there were ways of getting around that.

And that, friends, is why the struggle occurred.

My mother made the mistake of giving in and buying it for us once.  In days were were finished with the cereal, and what I mean by that is that we had plucked out all of the marshmallows and had no special interest in eating what was left.  Mom saw this as a colossal waste of our hard-working father's money, so she swore she'd never buy it again.

When your eyes are as big and blue as mine and your hair as pale and angelic as my sister's, you just know that isn't going to last.  Throughout my childhood and youth, the scenario repeated itself over and over - mom bought the cereal after securing promises from her two little gremlins angels that we would eat ALL the contents of the box, not just the marshmallows.  We found newer and more inventive ways of not eating the gross, grey, real cereal in the box, or eating as little of it as we could get away with.

Once, as an adult, I bought myself the much-fought-over and much-sought-after cereal and discovered two things.  First, I don't know if they improved the flavor of the NotMarshmallowBits, but it really wasn't all that bad to eat bites that contained equal amounts of cereal and marshmallows.  Second, I don't know if they changed the "recipe" for the marshmallows, but they really weren't worth all the begging.

Anyway, this post isn't about those lucky charms (believe it or not).

I got lucky tonight with the last recipe of the menu: Tanya's Asian Creation from The Garden of Vegan.  Honestly, I made this out of a stubborn desire to use the second most underused cookbook in my collection.  I sat down with the book while making last week's menu and said, "I will find one good recipe in this book so I can justify having it for a better reason than that it completes the Sarah Kramer Trilogy."

In the book, the recipe looked promising, but I'll admit, it was at this point in preparing it that I finally became convinced it might taste good.  I realized that is one of the reasons I don't cook frequently from this book - there are a lot of freaky little Asian-inspired dishes by Tanya Barnard, Sarah's writing-mate, and I just can't get into a lot of the strange ingredients she uses.  I confirmed my suspicions during dinner that Mister might leave me if I try to feed him seaweed.

Fortunately, we both got lucky because this has no seaweed or other bizarre ingredients and actually tasted pretty good.  It must have been sufficiently filling, too, because it took Mister hours to need his nightly sandwich(es).

So, the old menu done and the new menu was constructed over the course of today (yes, it took all day - I was interrupted several times by a hyper Mister who concluded that he is better off as an insomniac because when he sleeps too much [= enough], he has all kinds of energy and won't leave me alone).  Lucky for Mister, I love him and I constructed almost the whole menu with his recent requests/feedback/pleas in mind.

1. Cottage Pie - I've mentioned a couple of times now that Mister mourns the loss of classic UK pub food (which is amusing, since I'm the Greek's little Irish wife), so I've set out to try veganizing a couple of classics.  This one looked relatively do-able, so while the name of the recipe links to the original recipe, I will probably post my own version once I've determined it's worth feeding to other people.

2. Bangers and Mash - which was the original reason this began.  Mister really wants vegan Bangers and Mash and said "it's just sausage and mashed potatoes, so it shouldn't be that difficult, but there's something about it that's just so....amazing."  From the recipe I'll be loosely following, it looks like that "something special" is the gravy.  Interestingly enough, I found a recipe for Bangers and Mash in one of the cookbooks I went through tonight for the rest of the menu, but since the recipe I'm borrowing from (click the title) is composed by a true Brit, I'm going to stick with that.

3. Easy Manicotti Alla Romana from The Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook because Mister also requested more food you need to cut with a knife and can be served on a plate.  Go figure.  Anyway, I figure this combines everything that is great in MisterWorld: Italian food, food you can cut, and food you eat on a plate.

4. Sloppy Joes from The Urban Vegan, which also requires a plate, also makes Mister (and Angst, and me) happy, and cooks up super fast and easy, which is all I want in the world some nights.

5. Granada Paella, also from The Urban Vegan, even though it burns my face off the first night (the leftovers hurt less, probably because I don't heat them up) because it really does taste incredible and I've made it so many times I barely have to think about it anymore, which is another thing that's important some nights.

6. Farfalle with White Beans and Cabbage from Vegan on the Cheap because I have half a head of red cabbage hanging out in my crisper drawer and because the grocery list was getting a little long for the second week of the paycheck.

At least half of the recipes take a decent time commitment.  I wanted to take advantage of the time before Black Friday to make some longer-cooking meals because I have an idea that I will want low-effort meals for the month and a half that follows.  Someday I'll work in a position that doesn't mean December = Insanity.  This year is not that time.